As another school year begins, I reflect back a few decades ago, when I wrote a regular newspaper column in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. The 1988 school year saw my youngest child start kindergarten and my niece go away to college. The following is a barely edited text of my column that ran September 8, 1988. The theme is basically timeless. However, reading my own words filled with hope for my children’s future is quite poignant today.
Few scenes are more pathetic than a disenfranchised mother, like a mama bird, peering regretfully over the edge of her empty nest.
Case in point: The first day of school at my son’s elementary, where a covey of kindergarten mothers cluster in the hall to commiserate.
Inside the classroom, enthusiastic five-year-olds proceeded with the business of growing and learning, while outside in the hall, a handful of teary-eyed adults bemoaned their “babies” growing up. There was a difference of opinion, as to whether it was more difficult for those of us blowing goodbye kisses to our last “baby,” or for those mothers who, while gently nudging their first into the world, still had at least one safe in the nest.
Only one dad was among us, and he left long before the teacher ushered the rest of us to the door. Clearly, nest-nudging is a task that falls under the job description of “mother.”
Altogether, it was not an easy first-week-of-September. I was forced to acknowledge the encroaching adulthood of my niece, as she went away to college, and my little boy starting kindergarten. Only my fourth grade daughter lent some sense of stability, by not embarking on any “significant firsts.”
September – summer’s end, seems to be the season of separation. Oh, I know there are songs from the 1960s, which would have us believe otherwise: “See You in September” and “Sealed With a Kiss.” But, they are about teenagers’ school crushes, distanced by summer sabbaticals. I may have fallen for that romantic rhetoric then. But, wisdom is in the eyes of the beholder. From the parental perspective, I see September as a time of letting go.
My daughter’s first day of kindergarten went more smoothly. And knowing my son’s survival instincts, I should have known he would also ace the first day of the rest of his institutionalized life. Yet, I couldn’t suppress the memory of horror stories I had heard about hysterical kids clinging to their parents’ car bumper on the first day of school.
Not to worry! The annual inauguration seemed to take its toll primarily on those of us over three feet tall.
I don’t know about other mothers. But, I probably tend to project my own childhood insecurities onto my more self-actualized offspring. So, I am always pleasantly surprised that, not only do they cope, they conquer new situations.
My niece and my children represent the secure 80s generation – the boomers’ babies who rarely view anything new as the end of an era Instead, they approach life as an adventure, seeking less to maintain the status quo than to experience something new and grow.
It’s a great winning attitude – one I have tried to sow and nurture in my children. (It’s always a good idea to raise kids who will be positive role models for you in those formative years – from 30 to 45).
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