Back to School Highs and Lows: Observations from the Field

By Jennifer LoConte

It’s that  time of year once again: back to school. As a parent, you may be jumping into the air, smiling and shouting, “Thank you, God!” Or, you may be clutching a tissue, looking at old photo albums, sobbing and asking yourself, “How is it that my baby is ready for kindergarten so soon?” Depending on the age of your child and how many of them you have usually determines the emotions that we, as parents, feel.

As a parent of  five- and seven-year old girls, my feelings are most likely very different than that of a parent with a college freshman leaving home for the first time this fall. We parents watch our children grow both physically and mentally as they enter a new school year each fall. I readily admit that when my firstborn began kindergarten, I wistfully remembered those days of taking walks with her in the stroller and setting up play dates with neighborhood moms. I missed those carefree times and longed to have them back. This was, however, not the case with my second child. This fall, as she begins her first year at elementary school, I am proud and excited for her, just as she is excited to follow in her big sister’s footsteps. Sure, I reminisce about her baby years, (well not so much as she was an unbelievably colicky baby and spent more time screaming at the top of her lungs than cooing and smiling); but I am also thinking that this is the first time in years that I will have  time to myself, time to get household projects and chores done, time to write some more and time to just be me. As I sat through my second child’s preschool graduation, I smiled  knowingly as I watched some of the other parents wiping their tears and listened to them tell each other that only yesterday little Johnny or Suzy had just learned how to crawl. Firstborn, I thought to myself, done that. “Bring on kindergarten,” I whispered, smiling proudly at my graduate.

Fast-forward to those “tween and teen” years. I can only imagine what THAT must be like. From observing friends as well as using social media tools, I asked those who have children in middle and particularly high school, how they felt about the start of a new school year. The answers were varied.  Some parents were literally counting down the days until school started, way back in July. Surely, these parents enjoy spending quality family time together, taking leisurely summer vacations to the shore or the mountains. But, let’s face it, teenagers don’t exactly want mom and dad around more than necessary or at all and their teen know-it-all attitudes can be more than frustrating. My husband and I remind each other of this fact as presently, our girls clamor for our attention one hundred percentof the time. Some parents say they can’t wait for their teen to return to school because they didn’t have a summer job and spent way too much time in front of the computer or TV. Not following curfew rules and a general bad attitude were also a complaint. (Remembering my own rebellious adolescent years, I’m sure there were some summers that my own parents couldn’t wait for September to arrive). Still, other parents’ responses were just the opposite, saying they looked forward to having their teen home for summer vacation and that they valued the time to reconnect after a busy and hectic school year. All of the parents said that they do look forward to their teen beginning school each fall, but for varied reasons.

Emotions seem to come full circle as a parent of a high school senior watches his or her child enter that final year of school before going off to college or beginning a full-time job. Some will continue to live at home while others will travel to various states and even across the country. My niece recently began her senior year and the roles seem to have reversed overnight. She cannot wait to get out on her own and go to a college out of state, while her mother, who at times couldn’t wait for her daughter to get back to school in those teen years, is now wishing this last year of high school would slow down. Those same tears that were wiped away at preschool graduation suddenly reappear as parents watch their graduate walk across the stage to accept his diploma and slip into adulthood. Emotions really do seem to come full circle as we watch our children grow from those early kindergarten years to high school and beyond. Better keep those tissues handy.

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