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The Love-Hate of Back-to-School

By Kristen Thompson. Originally published in The View

The days are getting shorter, the nights are getting cooler, and little people across the city (and their parents) are preparing for a milestone I’m not sure I’ll ever be ready for: the first day of school.

As I type the word “school”, I’m getting choked up. Had we stayed in Ontario, my four-year-old would be about to start Kindergarten. And while I’m relieved to have this extra year with her – where I can convince myself she’s small for just a little a bit longer – I know I’m just putting off the inevitable: she’s going to grow up, and I’m going to have to let her go.

Parents with kids starting kindergarten next week, or preschool, or high school or university – tell me how you do it. How do you drop them off at school, or wave to a bus as it drives away with them inside, and keep it together? How do you celebrate these little milestones, when the milestones come with so many good-byes?

Don’t get me wrong, I get how hard the days can be when your kids are home with you. The days with my own kids can be long. Painfully long. And for working parents who have to find a way to fill their kids’ weekdays, navigating summer camps and short-term daycare spots, I get why the end of the summer is cause for celebration.

I really do.

But that back-to-school euphoria must be mixed with a little pang of something else – a little reminder that they’re one year older – and that the coming year means a new list of firsts: first sleepovers, first field trips, first dates and driving lessons.

I’ve already had my taste of emotional firsts – I’ve put both my little girls into daycare and watched them cry for me from the window. I’ve sobbed while driving away, wondering how I could leave them to navigate an entire day without me. I’ve come home to a quiet house where I longed for the sound of their footsteps. And I’ve watched them grow comfortable and eventually happy at daycare – which has always been bittersweet.

The truth is, eventually, we all have to entrust someone else to help us raise and educate our children. We have to let our village grow. I just can’t believe how quickly it happens.

As parents, we spend our kids’ childhoods preparing them to become the self-sufficient and kind people we hope they’ll be once they leave home and find their own place in the world. There’s nothing I want to do more than to help my daughters grow into women. But each new step toward adulthood is a step away from the childhood where they cuddle into my arms at night.

I feel like I’ve got my daughters on a tether, and I’m slowly letting out the line. Next year there will be elementary school, then after-school activities, and before I know it, part-time jobs and Friday nights with friends. They are going to spend less and less time in my company, and then one day they are going to move away. That imaginary tether won’t be long enough anymore, and I’ll have to open my palm and let them go.

So for everyone loosening the line just a little bit next week, stepping back so your children can take another step forward without you, I feel you. Whether it’s preschool, kindergarten, middle school or high school. Whether it’s college, university, or a new city for a first job – you’re going to do great, and they’re going to do even better. Because that’s all we want for them. In the end.


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