Today is the first day of high school for my baby, the one who proclaimed after dropping out of pre-school that he was never going back to school. The end of summer always drops on his head like an avalanche.
I find myself wishing that he had the same positive anticipation of the first day of school that I used to have, instead of the pinching anxiety. Then I wonder — am I remembering it wrong through the haze of decades?
In my recollection, at least in elementary school, first days meant all good things — bringing new school supplies and wearing a new outfit; finding my name written in the teacher’s neat printing on a crisply folded cardstock; seeing which friends would be in my class.
But if I roll the tape to middle and high school, the picture changes – I remember that sudden squeezing stress of a Sunday afternoon, and I understand him better.
I do recall one coping strategy I tried in my Senior year in high school, the same institution that now holds my child. The first day of school, I decided to try to hold onto the summer feeling as long as I could, to trick myself into believing that it was still summer, the only difference was that during the day I was hanging out with my friends at school and not the beach. The trick didn’t last the week.
Now our kids go back to school when it actually is still summer! No wonder it hurts.
Not just that, but as he zipped his backpack, there was this question, the question: Do you think my school is safe? As if his meaning weren’t clear enough he added, There have been shootings in California, you know. We have drills once a month.
I made a split second decision to make up a statistic about lightning striking, because what the hell else could I say in that moment. Then I hugged him and handed him his lunch bag. Time to go.
As I drove him to school, he took a few slow deep breaths, settling and soothing himself in preparation for the onslaught of six new teachers and their expectations. As I wait for him to come home this afternoon, I realize that I’d better do the same.
All of this makes me wonder, what does “normal stress” for a teenager look and feel and sound like? What are your memories of back-to-school — the blues or blue skies? How do your kids anticipate the first day of school? What eases the transition? All funny comments get extra points!