Image of a high school boy with a backpack on walking to his first day of school.

Independence Day (aka The First Day of School)—You Either Love It or Hate It or Both

I love the first day of school.

I love the first day of school, be it kindergarten, middle school, or college. Once the kids walk out the door, there is both silence and a guaranteed span of time in which messes will not be made. The clean quiet makes me feel like I belong to me again, instead of to everyone else.

I dread the first day of school.

The first day of school means setting alarm clocks earlier, packing lunches, and preparing often very sleepy kids for departure. Not only that, but come one or two o’clock, the silence in the house begins to feel too quiet. And also a little bit lonely.

Summer vacation is the best.

As a kid, I loved summer vacation, loved it so much. Riding bikes in the graveyard or down to the convenience store for Pixie Stix, flavored wax lips, and watermelon Bubble Yum gum. Going to the pool. Picking zinnias and snapdragons from Mom’s cutting garden and tomatoes as big as a doll’s head from Dad’s vegetable patch.

Every summer I read a hundred or more books from the library—Nancy Drew mysteries and stories about Alex Ramsey and his black stallion. If a book was fantastic, I’d stay up all night, reading under the covers with a flashlight.

My fond memories of summer breaks are why I mourn the onset of a new school year for my kids.

The first day of school increases my freedom but decreases theirs. 

Harder still is the realization that as time marches on, my babies are growing up. As sad as that makes me, I can see how all along,

Life prepares you to let them go.

First there were sleepovers with grandparents, then later with friends. During the summer, we dropped off the kids for two-hour sessions, five date nights in a row, of Vacation Bible School.

All three of our children enjoyed 4H day camp. In time, there were week-long church or sports sleepover camps. One summer our son spent two long whole weeks at West Virginia University’s Governor’s School for Math and Science.

Sooner or later most kids obtain a driver’s license. Maybe a part-time job during the school year, a full-time job for the summer. Marching band or sports practices keep them at school extra hours.

Every activity gets them and you used to being apart for a few hours, days, or weeks.

Remember, independence is the goal. 

Each separation takes your child a few steps away from you and a few strides toward their own independence. I remind myself often that independence is the goal. At least, it should be.

Years ago I had a conversation with a friend who parents differently from me. Her daughter’s leash seemed little more than a handle and a clip. Consequently, the girl didn’t know how to function in the world without her mother’s guidance. 

As my friend described their life, it occurred to me my middle-school-aged daughter was better equipped for adulting than the other mother’s college freshman. This realization reinforced my commitment to:

Raise competent, not confined, children.

I recently read a New York Times article that said one of the hardest things a young person will do is gain independence while living in their parents’ home. This tension is why kids are often difficult, sarcastic, or oppositional. They’re simply trying to be separate from their parents, and often words and tone feel like the only tools at their disposal.

“There are few situations in life more difficult to cope with than an adolescent son or daughter during the attempt to liberate themselves.”

–Anna Freud

Our youngest child, Junior-Man, is starting his senior year of high school. For the third and final time I am seized by the realization that I only have one more year with this child. It’s like getting gut-punched while peeling a really big onion.

When he said, “I only have one more year at home, Mom. I don’t know how I feel about that,” I resisted the urge to tackle-hug him. Instead I assured him when that time comes, he’ll be welcome to bring home his laundry and/or his roommates. I’ll take care of the clothes while feeding him and his friends. Maybe it could be a once a week thing.

Because really, with no kids around, not even at three o’clock in the afternoon, this old house is going to be way too quiet.

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