According to the The Daily Mail, “parents are five times more likely to cry on the first day of school than their kids.”
And, I don’t think they meant only the parents of kids in kindergarten; grown-up tears flow with every new school and stage of development. By this time each year, from every corner of the globe, enough water is trickling down on college campuses, and at airports and train and bus stations to render poor drought-stricken California a soggy mess. If you listen very hard, you can make out the sobs heard round the world.
I must admit that I’ve done my share of crying in the past, for what was no longer and what was to be. And I get misty when I remember my son running through the school playground towards me when he spotted my car, but it’s been quite a while since I sat, post-drop-off, blubbering uncontrollably into my Starbuck’s. (Okay, I never really did that…come ON, people!) I love my kids just as much as the next guy, but the volume of tome-like articles—which seems to be growing, by the way—I’ve been reading the past few weeks written by parents who are inconsolable about the departure of their children no longer moves me. My youngest graduated college this past May, so this year I have jumped the tracks and walked down that red carpet leading to the group of parents who no longer have to deal with the first day of school at all…ever again. The emotion I feel when I hear those school bells ring is relief.
I can wax poetic with the best of them when I think of my boys, one at the table doing his homework, one below the table—yes, things were interesting in our house—roaring like a super monster, but the memory of loading up shopping carts at Staples with who knows what of every size and color and elbowing my way through throngs of parents (looking like confused Shar-Peis holding teachers’ supply lists), angling for the very last three-hole punch or purple Trapper Keeper, inspires me with nary an ode to those days. No stress about back-to-school clothing shopping either. No disruption of a day at the beach to rush to the mall while I bribe my sunburned kids with candy just so they’ll agree to wriggle into stiff jeans and stifling long-sleeved shirts and sweats.
There are a boatload of articles on how to prepare your kid (and yourself) for your child’s first day of school and first day of college, but nowhere is there anything that helps prepare a parent for the first day of “no school.” The reason for that may be that no preparation is needed. There is a sense of melancholy there, but it’s dull. I’ll miss the feeling of nervous excitement and anticipation of the growing and learning that’s about to occur. But the thought of no longer having to cajole my boys into posing for first day of school photos as they bop each other on the head with their new backpacks brings me to a state of Zen.
As I wend my way past all bus stops, school areas, and walking routes in my neighborhood, I think of how adorable all those kids are, but I am also thinking of vacations: I can now take them any time of year without having to worry about working around school holidays and breaks. And what’s even better is I can now actually afford to take a vacation. Goodbye Tuition Fund, hello Paris, Madrid, London Fund! Once you no longer have to deal with any kind of calendar restrictions, you can travel the world during the off-season—crowd-free. No whining kids sitting behind or next to you on airplanes, no one kicking your seat. (Disclaimer: my son has yet to find a job, so he’s still on the payroll, but my bank account is no longer being depleted at such a rapid rate.)
We’ve had a good run…lots of great memories of playdates and class trips, and parents’ weekends and football games during homecoming…and who am I kidding, I do feel some sorrow. But in a few weeks, at just about the time when testing begins and SATs are scheduled, and college apps will need to go out, I’ll be drowning my sorrows in some wine on a bike in France. Sometimes when life gives you “lemons,” you gotta make lemonade.