Back To School and Inner Conflict

I’ve told the story of my son’s first bus ride to school, but it always ends after the bus pulls away. The point was to explain how difficult it is to see your non-verbal child roll off to join the rest of the world for the first time on his own. That moment was a difficult one.

What happened afterwards was just as tough. I walked back into the house…and he wasn’t in it.

That was the strangest part of the day. The silence of a house that had almost constantly been filled with his excitement was deafening. There was no Wiggles, Sesame Street, or Raffi background music perpetually playing.  No clapping. No crying. No hugging. He was gone.

schoolHis sister was gone too. While I had a few more years to adjust to her days away, it never felt fully normal when she wasn’t there either. Our home, as a whole, lost all of its energy. As strange as it may seem to someone who isn’t in a similar situation, my house didn’t feel “alive” anymore.

Their rooms, which had been filled with constantly moving toys, were now frozen. Stuffed animals and books no longer were being tossed from place to place. Now, just like the air, they were still. It felt like I had stepped into a “Life After People” documentary.

What makes the whole situation a bit harder is that my children rarely, if ever, have babysitters. Mostly due to my protective nature with my son, we don’t go out much without the kids. The house was usually its most quiet when they were asleep. To witness the same ambience at 10 in the morning was a different experience altogether.

Sure, it was great to have some free time. I could focus on chores, work, and myself without the constant tug on my sleeve for attention. That was just one part of a bigger picture though. I was conflicted over this because while I loved every minute of the freedom, I still counted the hours until they were both back to take that freedom away. While their presence could be grating at times, their absence left a void that was hard to ignore.

This inner conflict is real and probably more common than people admit. Of course, that’s not what you’re probably used to seeing online. The Internet is full of exaggeration. You don’t come across articles with titles like, “20 Pretty Good Game of Thrones Moments.” Instead they are “soul crushing”. Pictures “ruin your childhood”. Words “restore your faith in humanity.” There’s no more middle ground. Middle ground doesn’t generate enough clicks nowadays.

That’s why I was ready for the all of the “I can’t wait until my kids are going back to school” memes when they started popping up this past week. Parents, who just days earlier, have been posting happy family pictures at beaches and vacations were now sprinting in the opposite direction. It all culminated with a video of an overhyped mom jetting through Target and swearing she would buy any school supplies possible to get her kids out of the house. It was all very frantic and in that over-the-top aggravated tone that is slowly becoming our new form of humor nowadays.

Don’t get me wrong. I totally get it. The fed-up-with-these-kids narrative is a classic one and, in many ways, truthful. It’s only part of the equation though. It’s great to have some time away again, but I wasn’t faking all the summer fun we spent together. Of course there were moments that were more annoying than others, but overall, it was great. I love these kids and they love me. We enjoy our time together while still being able to enjoy our time apart.

I know I’m not the only one who feels this way too. I know because I’m there to see everyone else picking their kids up from school. You don’t see parents showing up at dismissal on day one with an annoyed look and rolled eyes. No one greets their kids with, “Ugh. You’re freakin’ back?!”

It’s the opposite actually. Moms and dads are beaming as they collect their children. They take pictures, scoop them up in their arms, and ask about their day. It doesn’t mean that the few hours of adult-time they had were a bust. It means that you can savor your private time without demonizing your family time. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing and don’t let anyone convince you otherwise.

So as the summer days wind down, look forward to sending your kids back. That’s completely fine. But don’t wish away those last few days together just because a funny picture on Facebook told you to. Life is not about alls or nothings. It’s about the in-betweens. Nothing can “restore your faith in humanity” if you never lose it to begin with.