This year, our first-day-back morning was unexpectedly surreal. It started out atypically calm and unhurried. I only had one to drop off at the high school and it wasn’t a noteworthy first day at a new school. Looking in from the outside, it was a pleasantly unremarkable routine morning.
Surreal emerged from a keen awareness of the dwindling number of days of school mornings, packing lunches, parent meetings, projects, field trips, yearbooks, homework and report cards left for me as a parent. In a few years, nearly two decades after my oldest began kindergarten, my parenting will be relegated to advice and cute anecdotes during family holidays.
Part of what brought this reality to the forefront of my thoughts was the fact that my youngest child, my baby, the one taunted as spoiled by the older two, earned his learner’s permit the day before the first day of school. Sitting in the passenger seat while my baby drives around town behind the wheel of my car is unsettling.
When he was born, I vowed not to teach him to walk or talk. Of course he would learn how to get around and communicate, but I was not in a big rush to let the little guy grow up. I’d made that mistake twice before and I wasn’t going to make it again.
When he powered down the driver’s side window and ordered a sausage breakfast burrito twenty minutes after stuffing his permit into his wallet, it was clear that despite my efforts to cling to parenting as long as possible with my youngest, he grew up.
Last year, when my middle child moved into his dorm suite at NC State University, I was excited about the prospect of nearing the parenting finish line. Freedom, both socially and financially, was on the horizon. I could almost taste it.
Keeping me grounded and comfortable last year was the fact that while two had graduated from high school, the baby was just starting his freshman year and looked, well, young compared to the much older seniors.
But this year, the baby is as tall or taller than his brothers. He can drive. He had no anxiety about starting school for the third to last time before college. I didn’t cry. But the haunting realization that ALL my children will be GROWN before our neighbor’s newborn starts kindergarten drifted down upon my psyche and clouded the drive to work like a damp fog.
Twenty years ago, I couldn’t fathom being the mother of grown children. Those mothers seemed old and grandmotherly. They seemed less than savvy when it came to interacting with the world around them. But then, I suppose the world around them was much less technologically hectic.
Twenty years ago, today seemed a million years away. Sure, mothers of grown children warned me to savor the moments, because children grow up in the blink of an eye. They warned me that my babies would be all grown up in no time.
Now that their collective prophecy is coming true, I find myself in the same mindset as the day my youngest was born. I’m trying to hold on. It’s sad, but so very true. The evidence is clear—I’m grasping at the apron strings and tying knots.
For example, during the first band parent meeting of the year, I began signing up to volunteer. While volunteering is a good thing, what I did next, especially in consideration of my overly filled plate of responsibilities, was not prudent. The band parent committee needed a secretary and, in a maneuver to hold on to my role as a parent, I volunteered.
Again, you might think volunteering to take notes at four meetings that occur over a 10-month period would be honorable. But when you consider I missed every meeting last year, have a more demanding job and am now a board member for another organization, committing to the secretary position was not my most brilliant move.
After over-extending myself for the rest of the year, I headed straight to the grocery store to get school lunch necessities. My son had a great time in the store because he drove there, picked out his favorite foods, and then drove home.
Meanwhile, in between being chauffeured to and from the store, I was acting like the mother of a five-year-old preparing for his first day. "Which crackers do YOU want? Would you like pudding cups, too? Pick out something else. I don’t want you to be hungry!" Hubby was following us hoping to throw SOMETHING in the cart he could use for his own lunch.
I plan to cherish every drop of parenting left between now and graduation 2015. But hear me now ye mothers of babies, like our neighbor down the street who just welcomed her beautiful daughter into this world. Savor every moment with your children. In the blink of an eye, they will be grown.
Micki Bare is a columnist for the Arkansas News Bureau and the Courier-Tribune in Asheboro, N.C., and author of "Thurston T. Turtle Moves to Hubbleville." She lives in Asheboro with her husband, three children and mother. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org