How to survive those first day feels
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Parenting in general is difficult, trying to figure out how to raise your child in the faith (especially in 21st century America) may seem impossible. We cannot make the next generation grow up to be disciples, but we can create environments where discipleship is more likely to happen.
There comes a day when the summer chaos has to end. My sanity—lost in a haze of cold chicken nuggets, temper tantrums, and mosquito bites—may be on the horizon again. This year, my little ones will be off to preschool. It’s a day exciting enough to warrant buying those overpriced backpacks.
Yes, despite my five, three, and one-year-old boys hanging from every limb of my body, I managed to order new, monogrammed backpacks for each of them online. Not the Target ones I usually purchase -- the sophisticated ones that the “cool moms” buy.
The First Day of School: it’s like a light at the end of a very long, very chaotic tunnel.
One night when they’re all asleep in bed, I will line the new backpacks up by the front door, admiring their perfect shape and their lovely fabric, free of Chik-Fil-A ketchup stains. The smell of impending discipline and order will drift through the house, haunting my children in their sleep.
But joking aside, the beginning of the school year has its challenges. Mostly, the challenge is just getting over the emotional hurdle of transition.
Recently, my brother and sister-in-law experienced a very emotional “first day” drop off. They had sixty seconds to say goodbye to my eighteen-year-old nephew as they dropped him off for the first day of boot camp at West Point, where he is entering as a freshman.
Not only did they come face-to-face with the heartache of their son leaving for school after eighteen years at home, they had the added stress of knowing they wouldn’t be able to communicate with him as he endured many weeks of grueling Basic Training. That scenario makes for one of the hardest and most emotional first-day send offs that I can imagine, and yet I’ve been inspired by the way my brother and sister-in-law handled it.
A few months ago during a family dinner, I asked my brother if he was terrified of the time my nephew would leave. Looking at my little boys, I hated to think the day would come when they’d leave me (it’s worth mentioning that this was before they began driving me crazy this summer, but still…). He voiced some apprehension about the adjustment, but summed up the situation by saying: “God’s in control, and he’s got this.”
His attitude as a parent showed faith in something bigger than his apprehension. So, when I’m tempted to feel guilty and overemotional as I drop unwilling preschoolers off to their teachers on the first day of school, I just have to remember what my own “something bigger” is.
This year, for my three year old, “something bigger” than his growing pains is the chance to make new friends and experience adult influences outside of his family. I’m excited for him that he will learn more about the world around him, and therefore be able to better enjoy it. While getting used to going to Sunday School this summer, he began reassuring himself by saying, “My mommy will be right back!” Preschool will help him develop that security when he is away from me. It’s amazing to see that God has blessed him with inner strength and coping skills, and that I am not his only lifeline.
My five-year-old faces a new school with all new kids this year. My “something bigger” for him is excitement that he will learn to read. I know he will be nervous on the first day, but when he adjusts, it will be more proof to himself that he can adapt to change and make friends in new environments.
But even though I've armed myself with perspective and a stay-positive-plan, I have a feeling that the first day of school won't be easy. When my children fight me as I dress them and run in opposite directions as I try to take first-day pictures on the porch, I'll know it's because the butterflies in their stomachs are as big as the ones in mine. At their teachers' doors, when my youngest throws a fit and my oldest keeps insisting on another death-grip hug around my neck, I will overcome the butterflies and take charge. I will smile and say, "You're going to have a great day!" and "Mommy will be right back!" but, if the past repeats itself, I will hear their cries all the way down the hall. Thankfully, I will recognize my children and myself in the faces of the other families making that first-day walk down the hall.
Maybe I'll cry a little in the car. But before I know it, the guilt I feel will give way to something more like, thirst.
I'll get Starbucks and then, sipping my Mocha Frappuccino, I'll browse through the morning's pictures on my phone. I'll see the nervousness in my children's eyes, and I won't be thrilled about it. But that’s when I’ll remember the bigger picture, and know without a doubt that we're going to get through this.
We're all in this together.