Each year back to school changes everything

This year my daughter starts high school and my son begins middle school in sixth grade. Over the weekend,  I found an essay I wrote a few years ago when my daughter started sixth grade and it seemed appropriate to share it today, when many children are going back to school.

September 2009  – They may not be as cute but they were in kindergarten but they probably are just as nervous. Today my daughter began 6th grade. It was a bit of a crazy day, since she realized she had forgotten her class schedule in a different binder so we raced home before I dropped her off at her new middle/high school. Of course, gone are the days of walking her into her class and getting a picture of her at her desk. Last year, I had to practically beg her to let me walk her inside and if I hadn’t done that there is no way I would have gotten that picture.

Today, I accepted the photos outside of our house and didn’t assume I would be entering the school again until I volunteer there.

It’s been a strange summer leading up to this moment. We decided that our daughter probably should have a cell phone this year since she will be taking two buses to get home and the comfort of knowing she can call us if there is a problem outweighed our belief that kids really are growing up too fast in the 21st century and cell phones are a necessary evil.

What I have seen most this summer is a recognition that my daughter is getting more mature and responsible. She is able to do things now that I only dreamed she would do when she was a toddler – like brush her own teeth and hair. In fact, she has taken great pride in herself and her room and really wants to be treated with more independence. I am realizing as the mom of a preteen girl I need to let her go and grow and give her some space to explore some of these new requests. I realize that we will still need boundaries but the black and white that seemed so obvious a few years ago is much more grey now. I need to listen to her requests and weigh them not against what other moms and dads do but what feels right for my kid right now at her level of maturity. It is both an exciting and somewhat frightening new stage and although I am enjoying it on many levels I do feel a twinge of sadness realizing that we can not go backward but only forward. That that little girl I walked with as a child, carrying her basket to pick up the treasures along our walks, the one I read to on long afternoons waiting for daddy to come home, is now a blossoming young women who continues to grow in new ways. My role now is to listen when she talks and guide her along the way hopefully not embarrassing her too much with my advice and words of wisdom. As so many before me, I only hope I can do it well.

On her first day of sixth grade, after school, I get a text message from my daughter that she is on her first bus home. About thirty minutes later, I get a second text that she has safely transferred and is on the second bus coming home. I am happy to hear from her and am now more sure than ever that a phone was a worthy investment. I get in the car en route to pick up my son from elementary school and stop to see her getting off the bus. She decides to ride with me to pick up my son instead of walking home to let herself in. She tells me that the high schoolers were scary and swearing on the bus ride home.  She had tried to sit in the front of the bus but had to sit with otlder kids in the end and she didn’t want to talk to them. That afternoon she is very cuddly. She asks if she can sit in my lap and I can cuddle with her. She seems very aware that while she is indepenednet now at school and has more freedom than she has before, she doesn’t want to let go of the chances to be a little girl still. I notice after dinner that she has pulled out her American Girl Dolls. she has a collection that she played with constantly when she was younger but for the past year or so I haven’t seen her take them out of the closet. That night she does their hair and dresses them up. It’s as if the comfort of playing with dolls eases her mind from the new responsibilities she has at school.

 At our back to school night the week previously, we had sat with a hundred other anxious parents excited and nervous about our children’s arrival at middle school. The school counselor encouraged us to realize ahead of time that these next few years could likely feel a bit like a roller coaster with our children. Socially and emotionally they are changing so much and one day they may want to curl up with us like they are five again and one day they may be screaming at us to go away.

Today, as my son begins his own odyssey with middle school and my daughter starts high school, I am more prepared for adolescence. We’ve been on this journey now for several years and while a few years ago it seemed like a scary new part of childhood, the past few years I have begun to see the true joys of having children who can be more independent. With teens in our home, there may be more eye rolling and sighing and as parents we may not always feel appreciated but  there are also life lessons and wonderful interesting conversations.

So on this first day back to school, wishing all the moms and dads time to enjoy your children especially now that our schedules get more complicated, patience to survive our children’s antics through the teen years and the joys of seeing our children blossoming into young independent adults.

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