I have a confession to make: I have not dropped off my son on his first day back to school for going on at least four years. I didn’t even do it when I was on maternity leave last year.
This fact is another on my list of reasons I’m glad I’m not active on Facebook or Instagram. Because I know what it looked like a week or so ago: moms (almost always it’s moms, not dads) posting pictures of their well-dressed children, smiling & holding hand-drawn signs announcing the year their child is entering this year.
It’s not that these photos make me feel guilty per se, it’s just that they announce, to me, a gulf in mom-ness that I will never bridge.
Social media has entrenched a part of mom culture that I just have never connected with. It’s the sentimentality of firsts. The over sharing of our children’s images.
This particular first (the first day of school) also has deep ties to commercialism & consumerism, which makes me run away screaming in a knee-jerk reaction.
Don’t get me wrong, we do privately document the first day of the new school year. I’m indoctrinated at least that much.
But also, the transition back to school is a big deal to our kid. Starting a new academic year. Getting back to his friends & not-so-much friends. His work & the structure & the routine.
It’s such a big deal that it creates a lot of emotional upheaval at our house.
And for that reason, I think, my son is usually not a willing participant in my attempts to capture the moment with a photo. I usually have to coax him to smile (while complaining that I’m going to be late for work).
Our #nofilter back-to-school photo this year features my son frowning, dressed in his first-day best (picked by him after I gently explained the problem, generally, with pairing stripes & plaid…) set against a clear blue sky. I got him to smile only after reminding him how much his baby sister adores him.
I should have foreseen this. The night before presented unexpected challenges for me as a parent. My big kid needed help. I fumbled & grasped for the right things to say, but felt like a complete failure. I could tell we weren’t connecting.
Big kids have big problems. Some days, I have big hugs, but not big (or the right) words. Our kids of every age deserve & need our parental love, but figuring out how to deliver that love is not always self-explanatory.
The truth is, my eight-year-old is changing so much that I am scrambling to keep up. Figuring out how he needs me is like chasing a moving target. But it’s not for a lack of trying. No. And I’ll keep trying. He needs me now more than ever.
Whoever tells you this parenting gig gets easier as they get older is (pretty much) lying. Sure, I may not be hovering over his every move anymore, but it’s not “easier” to be his parent.
The issues these days seem to be deeper. Which makes them more challenging in many ways. And the solutions to these deep problems require effort & planning.
But I’m also still trying to convince him that a hug can help lessen the hurt.
Because sometimes the right words & the solutions will take time. Hugs can help now. My partner helped me realize that. When I’m hurting, he always offers a hug, because in the absence of the right words, human contact with someone you love & trust is as close as we can get to making things better. But it’s hard to accept, even when we’re lucky enough to have someone like that available & willing to try to help ease our pain.
Trying to convince an older child that your arms can still bring comfort, at a time when they’re starting to peel away from you as the central figures in their lives, is a tricky endeavor. I’m still trying both tactics: hugs and the right words. If I try hard enough, I have to get one right at least. Right?!
In the end, I think it’s also for this reason that I don’t participate publicly in the back-to-school frenzy (be it shopping or posting pictures on social media): My son does not need me to be an active participant in this annual upheaval. He needs me to be a stoic by-stander, ready to give him a hand as necessary.
And so, I find this fall is the perfect time for me to reflect on how I can be a better, more gentle parent this academic year.
P.S. We did succeed in finding the right words of support the day after the first day of school. Or, I should say, my partner plucked the right metaphor out of the air. T ended up really connecting with the image of his emotions being like a volcano, with the pressure building until they burst forth. It helped him understand that sometimes we have little control over these moments but that releasing the pressure will eventually help us to feel better. And he did feel a lot better & is now quickly readjusting to the new routine.