(Overheard at the kitchen table)
Husband: Is that a tear in your eye?
Me: It’s almost September, and another school year. They’re just growing up so fast.
Husband: Oh Lord, here it comes…
Yes, Husband, here it comes indeed! I’m a mom as a well as psychotherapist, so you can bet your bottom dollar that I’m just a tad in touch with my feelings, and IT IS VERY EMOTIONAL when you have one child entering high school and the other going to middle school!
One day it’s endless cuddles with chubby little bodies and holding tiny hands as you navigate just about everything. Suddenly, you’re confronted with longer limbs, muscles, training bras, braces, and lots of angst, independence, and oppositionality.
With both children on the cusp of transitional milestones, I’ve been thinking a lot about what I will be saying to them before the school year starts. The following is the conversation that I’ve been bouncing around in my head. At some point, I’m going to try to say it out loud, if I can get through it without crying (Take that, Husband!).
To My Two Eldest Children,
I know that behind the excitement and the anticipation of growing up, there is a lot of fear and anxiety that you’ll do it wrong, be embarrassed, or feel left out. I know that you worry about being laughed at instead of laughed with, or that you’ll have to walk the halls alone. Those clumps and cliques can seem intimidating, even though you’re counting on a few of your best friends from over the years being there for you to see you through it. You hope that will never change, and yet it might. You’re excited for the possibilities, but you’ve heard some stories. You know what you don’t want it to be like, and yet, there are no guarantees. Transition years are scary.
Yes, the social fears come first, but the academic worries are close behind. You wonder if you will be able to keep up, you wonder if your teachers will be kind, you wonder about all that dreaded HOMEWORK. If it was easy before, you know it’ll get harder. If it was hard before, you’re anxious about it getting waaaay beyond your ability to cope. And again, the fears about being good enough, smart enough, just….enough. Being enough has never been easy in a society where social-media driven standards seem so unrealistic; what to do now that you’re in it?
You’re beset by worry thoughts, plagued by anxiety, thrilled yet apprehensive, excited yet fearful, ready to take off and yet paralyzed by your innermost fears. These paradoxes are normal, and the road to adulthood is paved with them. When you were little and you felt this way, you looked up at me with questioning eyes, and I read your fears and smoothed your path. It somehow seemed easier back then, even though you might have felt the same fears when you were about to go to kindergarten, or when I left you in daycare for the first time. In a few short weeks, you’ll take on this “first” without me, because I won’t be there to give you that reassuring smile, or a squeeze of the hand.
But here is what I CAN give you.
I can talk to you in the weeks to come about what to expect, and I will tell you things that maybe you’ll tuck away in your mind and heart, to silently bring them out in your head when you need to find strength. When the slip-ups and hiccups come, as they inevitably will (no matter how perfectly you think you’ve tended to things), I’ll read your cues and offer to talk, if that’s what you need. And if it’s not the moment to do so, because you have to go through the requisite self-torture as you relive every millisecond of your perceived “flub,” I’ll wait (im)patiently, checking in every once in a while if I think you’ve been stewing too long. After some time, I might get naggy or pushy, but I’ll do it in the name of love, because I know you need relief from what you’re carrying inside, and because out of everyone in the world, I can absorb it best, because I love you most.
Things will be different, I know, because where I might once have asked for a conference with your teachers to get to the root of a problem, my job is now to casually chat with you about how YOU might approach things. That may feel terribly intimidating and burdensome to you, but I will remind you (and myself) that it has to be that way, so that you can eventually problem-solve on your own. I don’t want you to be afraid of confrontation or communication, so I know I’m going to have to hear you out on how you intend to tackle it, and support your ideas regarding outcomes and consequences.
I know that if you do it your way, I can’t jump in this time. This time, I am no longer on the front lines. It’s you, and YOU have to know that you can do it. That is experience beyond measure.
We haven’t done it this way before, you and I, but I’ve always told you that I believe in you, and now you’re going to get to see that it wasn’t all lip service.
I’m going to be anxious on your first day in a new school, but I’m not going to burden you with that. I’m going to remember that I tried to train you well, and that you are going to do your best with what was given to you. And hopefully, you will remember that I’ve told you that it is okay to ask for help, and that you shouldn’t wait until you are on the brink. Together we’ll remind you that no one around you has to know that you’ve asked for help, and that saving yourself and your sanity is more important than what others think of you in an isolated moment. There is a future despite this and in spite of this. I mean, I know you will care about what even casual strangers think, but we will try remembering that keeping your head above water is critical, and in some instances, you will have to put yourself first. Swallow hard, take a deep breath, and do what is right for yourself.
Yes, this is a new journey for us, and so much of it is unknown. But the one thing that will never change is how much I will be there for you because I love you. I have faith in you, and even if I’m unsure of whether the world will be kind, I know for certain that I will be. It’s new to me to let you take the lead, and for me to take the backseat while I watch things unfold that cause us both pain and anxiety. But where I once directed or commanded, I can no longer, because you are on the brink of finding your own power. You’re on the cusp of something amazing, and I see the future glimmering in your eyes, ready to be seized.
Take the road you’ve been wanting to for forever and a day. Make the best decisions you know to make.
Remember that I am your biggest fan and your most devoted supporter, and I’ll show you as much or as little of that as you need me to, particularly while you are figuring yourself out.
I’ll slip up often and I may not be perfect with all my intentions, but I will keep persisting, because this is one of my most important roles as your mother. It’s my transition too, but if I get this right, you will know for the rest of your life that I am always in it with you. All because I love you.