How did I feel after dropping the kids off on the first day of school? Well, I wasn’t exactly sad to see them go, but I also wasn’t doing my usual jig of joy to be rid of them. I wasn’t quite ready for our wonderfully unstructured summer to end, which has never happened to me before. For the past ten years, I’ve been chomping at the bit to get the kids back to school and get back to regularly scheduled programming. My entire life, I have loved September and all of the fresh starts and promises it brings. It was an odd sensation, feeling ambivalent about a season I usually can’t wait to embrace. I was unsettled and restless and in a fog, uncomfortable with my admittedly mild discomfort.
What I really felt was redundant. What I told my friends was, “I’d better go dust off my c.v. because these kids don’t need me any more.” I didn’t even get proper goodbyes. The bell rang, and Middlest (Grade 6) and Youngest (Grade 3) were gone with never a backwards glance. And today, when I went to kiss Youngest goodbye, he said, “I’m 8, Mum. I don’t need goodbye kisses anymore.”
“Well I’m 45,” I said, “and I do.”
What I felt a little was panic. What I told my husband was, “I feel like a shirker. I’ve just witnessed my own redundancy. I had no idea my job security was so precarious. I should be working somewhere else already, because these kids don’t need me anymore.”
What I felt was enormous relief to see my friends on the playground, enormous comfort in the mom squad, followed by shock when it registered that many of the friends who used to join me for a celebratory coffee after drop-off have gone back to work or their kids have graduated and there is actually no reason for them to be gathering on the empty playground to head en masse to the local coffee shop.
Is it too late to get a teaching job for this fall, I wondered, thinking now of the crowds of undergraduates who might benefit once again from my wit and wisdom at the front of an English literature class. A few days of brooding on the impossibility of a return to the ivory tower followed. I spent the hours the kids were in school organizing the kids’ bookshelves. Hours.
So this evening, when Eldest (Grade 10) and I had the following conversation, I was well prepared for feeling useless.
“It’s time to put your phone away. Go find a book,” I said. I’ve been longing for him to ditch the phone and get lost in reading all summer.
“Our English teacher wants us to read for pleasure,” he said.
“50 books before the end of the year,” he said.
“It’s impossible,” he said, “but I will go find something to read.”
“I have just sorted all of those books!” I thought. “I know just what to recommend!”
I began to get excited, I began to feel purposeful, I began to plan a reading list, I began to daydream about him forgetting all about his phone and getting lost in a good book again, confident in my expertise and my ability to find him such a book and pleased to have institutional support for so much reading.
“I will ask her in class tomorrow for some suggestions for some good books,” he said.