Bittersweet song of September
I’m glad I’m not a young mother shopping for school clothes and new backpacks, studying the bus schedule, filling in the calendar with “No school day’’ and “Early release,’’ scheduling gymnastics and dance lessons, switching gears and mindset, getting ready to give my children back to the world, bidding this long, hot, summer goodbye.
I never liked September when my children were young. It meant the end of something, not the beginning. Every year, when they walked out the front door and down the walk to wait for the school bus, a little taller and a little wiser than they were just 12 weeks before, my heart ached because I knew that when I got them back again in June, they wouldn’t be who they were now.
Children grow in the summer, too, I know, but it’s different when school starts. They seem to grow faster then. Everything seems faster.
There is a song from “Big: The Musical’’ that sums up the bittersweetness of raising children. It’s called “Stop Time,’’ and the first time you hear it, it stops your heart. “Nobody warns you of this parent’s paradox. You want your kid to change and grow,’’ the song says. “But when he does, another child you’ve just begun to know, leaves forever.’’
Even when you win, you lose. That’s the truth of the song. And that’s the truth about kids. You love your children at every stage exactly as they are. You love the way your baby fits snugly in your arms, the way he opens and closes his tiny hands, the way he sighs and leans into you when he’s sleepy. And you want to stop time. But you love it when he’s bigger, too, when he sits up all by himself. And you want to stop time, then. And when he learns to crawl. And when he walks and talks. And look. He’s starting kindergarten. And he’s learning to read. Can it get any better?
It does. It gets better and better. Parenting is filled with bests and a million happy tears. But it’s filled with lumps in your throat, too, and yearning for what was because even as you’re snapping pictures and head over heels in love with the moment that is, a part of you misses the moments that are not anymore. The infant your child was. The 2-year-old you pushed in her carriage all over town. The 5-year-old who said “pinuter’’ not computer. The 6-year-old who raced in from school every day eager to show you what he’d colored and learned and made.
September whisks kids away and entertains them and beguiles them, but returns them not as they were but changed and in a different size. That’s why parents cry as they stand and wave goodbye. Because first grade becomes fifth grade becomes high school becomes college even as you watch.
How is this, I wonder, that a day alone with a colicky baby and an I-don’t-take-a-nap-anymore 2-year-old can feel like a year? But 18 years can go by in a blink of an eye? How is it that both my daughters, who just yesterday were upstairs trying on their new school clothes, are this year dressing their own children ready for first grade?
They’ve bought new clothes and a lunch box and a backpack. Just as I bought new clothes and a lunchbox and a backpack for them, just as my mother bought new clothes and a lunch box and a green cloth book bag for me.
It’s a big step, first grade, the first in a journey that will take their children physically, emotionally, and spiritually to places they cannot begin to imagine. And not only will their children change, but the world will change, too.
The kids are excited. We’re all excited. A stop-time moment is on its way.
But time won’t stop. It won’t even slow down. That’s why we’ll pay attention and take pictures. So we’ll never forget the day. So that even when it’s passed, it will remain.
Beverly Beckham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.