Ever since my first child started kindergarten nine years ago, I have dreaded the end of each school year. It starts in mid-April with a pinch of maudlin, a dash of preoccupation with the future, and, much to my children's chagrin, a rampant compulsion to take a ridiculous amount of pictures. The whole process ends in June with full-on weeping at inopportune moments and, of course, more pictures.
This time of year is a sentimental stew of sadness, hope, trepidation, and excitement. Not to mention exhaustion. Every year I know it's coming. Every year it catches me off-guard.
Though the early morning awakenings, hurried breakfasts, haphazardly assembled lunches, and mountains of homework take their toll on our sanity, they are also indicators that, each day for seven hours, my children have somewhere to be and something to do (that I did not have to plan for them). I also know that, at 3:00 PM, they will saunter through the door in search of a sympathetic ear in which to pour the news of the day. And snacks.
I secretly take comfort in the routine of the school year because, on some level, it sweeps from my consciousness the awareness that time is passing and everything is temporary--even children. Though I knew this from the very beginning, intellectual knowing and experiential knowing are entirely different things. The latter always takes my breath away.
Here are four things you may be noticing this time of year:
1. It goes fast. Prior to becoming a parent, I thought this was just mindless cocktail drivel. Once I had children, Monday became Friday. Friday became Christmas. Christmas became Spring Break. Spring Break became Summer. Like cartoon calendar pages, the weeks and months continue to fall away into the wind, one right after the other, faster and faster, until, one day, your baby appears before you in a cap and gown.
It is as if we are all aging in dog years. The little boys and girls with whom my daughter went to kindergarten, just last week, must have slipped into some kind of hormonal time machine. The ones I don't see very often, with their deep voices, towering heights, and pimples, are no longer recognizable. This must be why, when I do see them, like a good little old person, I am compelled to blather on about how much they've grown. Because teenagers really do love that. Except they don't. But I still do it anyway. Impulse control is the first thing to go, apparently.
2. Social media makes you feel old. News feeds, once peppered with birth announcements and photos of sweet, sudsy bathtub babies have been overtaken by graduation announcements, prom selfies, and college acceptance letters. Wait a second. Didn't we just wean those babies, like, yesterday?
3. You may feel crazy (but you are not crazy). Watching children grow stirs so many mixed emotions. With each developmental milestone, we must let go of what is no longer needed so that we may encounter what is ahead. Yet there is an inexplicable desire to hold tightly with one hand what we are attempting to release with the other. It is normal and sometimes necessary to experience a mixed bag of feelings as we loosen our grip. This does not make us crazy; it makes us human.
4. Guilt and regret come with the territory. You may be beating yourself up for the soccer game(s) missed, the field trips you didn't chaperone, the Halloween costumes you didn't sew. Guilt comes from a sense of wrongdoing and regret is our mind's way of trying to convince us we knew better when we really did not. Fortunately, our relationships with our children consist of so much more than the incidents about which we feel guilty or regretful which, I assure you, are probably not really all that bad. We all did and are doing our best. And this is enough. Afford yourself the same grace you would afford others.
As parents, we are meant to put ourselves out of a job, yet nothing prepares us for the bittersweetness of witnessing a job well done. As this school year draws to a close, remember that your emotions are merely a sign that something important is happening. Take a moment to grieve for what is lost, lean into what is coming, and, perhaps most importantly, take lots of pictures.
Dr. Jill Gross is a licensed psychologist, dating coach, and writer. She offers dating consultation and counseling services in Seattle, WA.
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Dr. Jill Gross is a licensed psychologist, grief counselor, and dating coach. Her coaching and therapy practice is located in the Phinney - Greenwood area of North Seattle in Washington.