A new school year is upon us.
It actually descended sometime in late July, heralded by fliers and advertisements shouting at every turn, from running to the drug store for toothpaste to shopping online for shoes to wear to a friend’s wedding. It’s likely that before the ink dries on the first homework assignment, Back-to-School will be ushered out by Halloween.
This year, my daughters are each starting at a new school; we’ve recently moved, and to our newly minted high school freshman and middle-schooler, along with a preschooler with her own set of high expectations, these changes are a bit more overwhelming than those of any years prior, when they were flowing from one class to another in a small, local school, with the same friends they had forged relationships with over their entire educational experiences.
Oh, and that small insignificant detail about having a daughter starting high school? It feels like we have hit the big leagues now. High school in our new city is terrifying and sad and happy all at once, and I feel just about as flummoxed as that fun little cocktail of facts suggests.
My husband and I are also facing unique challenges of having three children in three separate schools. We have filled out every godforsaken form, toured each of the schools, made ourselves familiar with their layouts, met with guidance staff and the key school personnel that will make up the adult facet of the school days. We’ve purchased school supplies, new shoes, and the requisite first-day outfits.
On paper, I suppose it looks like we couldn’t be more prepared. I know that in reality, we’re anything but.
Each of our girls has had their own approach to the move and attending new schools, and they have been decidedly quiet about being on the precipice of having to forge new relationships, schedules, and habits. I know that in the next few weeks, they will morph from the sun-kissed, carefree, free-range-grazing children they are, to something different, and that there will likely be angst, mood shifts, and first-day, first-week, first-month blues.
While I am working to assuage their fears, I have a few of my own.
Our move was the first I have made outside of the twenty-minute radius where I was born.
I attended the same school, kindergarten through eighth grade, and the biggest transition I made was from a private, parochial Catholic school to a public high school. My own period of adjustment to our move lasted a bit longer than I expected, but after just under three months, I have started to feel more at home.
In our old hometown, we had a small, close-knit community school; the size of my eleven year-old’s new sixth grade rivals that of the entire population of her old school. I knew the families of my daughters’ closest friends quite well, and a few of the mothers were among my own dearest friends.
So, while I help my daughters each navigate their own insecurities, new schools, and new social groups, I will be doing the same thing, while outwardly maintaining positivity and strength for their benefit, and trying not to think about the multiple sources that speak to how starting at a new school can affect a child’s academic performance, social development, and mental state.
Ironically, there aren’t many resources that I could find about the effect of moving on the mother’s work performance, social development, and mental state. There are plenty about what to buy, what supplies or gear works well for a new school year, how to prepare the kids, and what organization or routines to establish so that your kids can get the recommended hours of sleep, as well as recipes for hand-curated bento box meals, and the moms who advocate for being the antithesis of that bento box mom, but nothing that explores what we moms emotionally have to circumnavigate when the family moves, and the bevy of conflicting emotions that go along with such a transition.
I think that we each need to recognize and remember that preparing for any new school year requires a lot of energy and that as overwhelming as it can seem, carving out time for ourselves is just as vital as making sure our kids have every emotional and material need met.
And there’s my own personal adjustment to the cold hard fact that I’m the parent of a high schooler, yet still feel as though I’m not yet that far removed from my own high school days. I remember parts of that time quite clearly, and that instills its own particular species of fear.
My anxiety over this entirely new season that is upon our family has manifested itself in several ways; for instance, I have found myself researching water bottles as if it I were writing a bonafide Consumer Reports article on the subject, comparing the benefits of steel versus glass versus B.P.A. free plastic.
This family does not need new water bottles. We have twenty-seven of them, in all of the varying, previously mentioned materials.
While shepherding my flock through this new, unknown terrain, I’ll be watching out for these sorts of water-bottle-researching signs that tell me I need to acknowledge my need for some space, grace and time for myself.
I will be simultaneously jumping for joy that my daughters are back in school, falling into the easy, worn comfort of work and family routines, and worrying about their well-being and acclimation to their new environments and social networks. I will also be commiserating with myself about the symbol of the death of my youth that is being the parent to a high schooler, and I know for sure that I will need some time to adjust. The concept of creating and maintaining an idyllic morning routine while hurtling the obstacle of getting everyone out the door on time and in one decent-looking piece, crafting our evenings around dinners as a family, attending to homework and quality time while simultaneously making sure everything is prepped in the best way for everyone to do it all again the next day seems like more of a burden than I can balance. I am insecure about adjusting to my own new environments, those of each of the new schools’ dynamics and the dreaded, already established mom cliques; I’m hoping for the best but envisioning navigating those circles will feel not unlike a baby deer in a lionesses’ den.
One thing that I am trying to hold in high priority, and not drown with my worrying, is giving myself grace; to remember that my emotions will be running a gamut much like my daughters’.
I won’t be able to ensure, no matter what I do, that everything will go smoothly, for them or for myself. I need to remember to make time and space for myself, connecting with those who know me best, talking through my own reservations and feelings with them, and sitting with the uncomfortableness of it all enough to get comfortable with it.
If you find me repeating any iteration of, “I’m doing fine, this will all be routine in a few months, I am a great mom, they’ll do just fine, they’re great kids,” to myself, just give me a warm squeeze on the shoulder, a sympathetic smile, and forget the encounter ever happened, OK?