School starts this week in my part of the world. In my entire lifetime, only six Augusts have not involved back-to-school preparations: five before my eldest daughter started kindergarten and this one. So while most years I have been wrapped up in the busyness and excitement of the first day of school, this year I'm looking back at many years of fresh fall starts. I am also more aware of the sadness some people are experiencing as school starts. Families sending a child off to school for the first time (especially if it is the first or last child in the family) are feeling some loss and a flutter of fear even as they enjoy the excitement of this big milestone. Other families face empty nests as they send their last "baby" off to college. Their homes feel empty and their calendars seem blank. And in between these two extremes are the fears and losses that crop up when a child is changing schools, moving up from elementary to middle or middle to high school and so forth.
Negotiating these feelings is the first "homework" of the new school year.
Here’s some more parental homework for those of you who are still buying school supplies:
- Remember who's going to school. "We" will not get an A+ on "our" project. School is your child's job, not yours. You've already been to third grade; let your child tell you how it is for her. Think about yourself at her age and share your 3rd grade self with her. She will love hearing your stories and you will enjoy the memories.
- Remember that the purpose of school is learning. Period. Everything else, sports, music, clubs, is just a side benefit. Family time is probably more important than many school activities. You can never get these days back, ever, so make sure to consider the true cost of the time required.
- Decide what is really important to your family and rank those items. Then, try to build your schedule around that ranking. If eating together matters, make it happen! If traveling is important, take a trip! If church is a priority, go! If service is something you value, then make sure you serve together as a family; what he does with his family will stick in his memory longer than anything he does with his class.
- Meet your child's friends' families. Chances are, especially when your child is in the lower grades, you will find people who are very compatible with your family. These people will be your friends for a long time if you make it a priority.
This brings us full circle, because when the year with no school supplies arrives, you will need friends who share your feelings. You won't have regrets because you didn't eat dinner once with your child during her whole senior year (yes, this is a true story - not mine but still painful). Your child's teacher will remember your child and not you, and your child will not have even dreamed of asking you to write a paper for his or her freshman English class (yes, this really happens!)
And if you really, really hate not buying school supplies, you have options: buy some and donate them to a school where kids need them, or dive in and take a class. Maybe it's your turn to get a new backpack. . .