Tuesday, August 11, 2015

The Five Stages of (First Time) Back to School Grief

The summer preceding my oldest child going to Kindergarten was much like any other; full of play dates and sibling “sleepovers,” around the town adventures and, when we’d all gotten our fill of one another, backtalk, sass and threats of bodily harm. So it was pretty much like our regular every day life, we just knew our constant time together would soon be coming to an end. The milestone hanging just over our heads was talked about often but I don’t think any of us was really prepared for the emotional toll it would take. When you come from a family of drama queens though, you should know that a little thing like Kindergarten would be a production like everything else.

Denial – The summer started off normally. By that I mean I spent most of my time lamenting not signing the kids up for summer camp and scanning Pinterest at the last minute for craft ideas that wouldn’t ruin my hardwoods or leave lasting smudges on the walls. I’d initially thought those few months before Kindergarten would be great for a last hurrah for my biggest girl and that we could use it as a special family send-off before her time with mommy came to an end. I’m not sure whose children I thought I had though.

Anger – It didn’t take long for me to remember that homemade chalk, sensory bins and paper plate mobiles give way to fights over Dollar Store kaleidoscopes and discussions on mommy buying the “wrong” kind of fish sticks. With my youngest finally on the move, I spent most of my time screaming for my son not to step on his baby sister and debating with the oldest on why heels (from her princess dress up bin) weren’t appropriate for a quick run to Target. 

Bargaining – Towards the end of July, I caught myself praying to summertime Jesus (the one with the Ray Bans and a tan) for the strength it would take to wrap up school supply shopping and the money I’d need for a new school wardrobe (how a 5 year old rips holes in the knees of every single pair of leggings she owns is beyond me!). Fun time had come to an end, and frankly we were all – the baby included – over our Brown Family Summer of Togetherness. “Dear lord,” I’d begin every night as I stood in the shower, “just get me through tomorrow. These gremlins want to break me but in you, and my wine, I find strength. Amen.” Keepin’ it real in prayer is one of my specialties.

Depression – So imagine my surprise when the weekend before school started, I found myself agonizing over a backpack purchase. I wanted her accessory to be indicative of her spark and fun loving attitude. I needed the other kids to realize they were getting a real gem and I hoped her outward appearance would radiate confidence and positivity. In other words, my husband found me sobbing on the kitchen floor at midnight wondering why I’d gone with the purple lunch bag instead of the pink with sparkles that was a little bit expensive but more symbolic of her personality. 

Here it was the night before school and I was preparing to leave her with complete strangers! Would her teachers realize that her initial standoffishness was the result of apprehension run amuck? Would they know even if she didn’t raise her hand, she loved reading the word of the day for her classmates? Would the other kids invite her to sit with them at story time? So many questions, so much ridiculous anxiety…but I own my neurosis. My stomach was in knots. 

The morning of the first day we both ate breakfast and talked nonstop, a habit we share when we’re overwhelmed. And as we walked stonily into the school, I’m not ashamed to admit that my eyes were filled to the brim. That first drop off hurt my heart more than I could have imagined, sending her out into the world was a big step. 

Acceptance – I waited in the pick up line after school a full 30 minutes before the final bell was set to ring. And had I not had the foresight that I wouldn’t be able to nurse the baby before bed if I was arrested, I might have even rationalized scaling the fence just to take a tiny peak into her classroom. But I didn’t do anything to warrant a call to the cops and the bell rang in no time with children spilling out of the building with glee. Before I knew it, my big girl (somehow she looked so tiny compared to the others though), walked out slowly, scanning the parking lot for my car. My heart pounded as I waved wildly to get her attention. She spotted me and waited until I approached the curb. When she got in, I squeezed her hand from the front seat and quickly pulled into a neighboring cul de sac so that I could park and turn around.

“Well,” I said as evenly as I could, “how was it?”

She scrunched up her face, “I was a little afraid this morning, you know. Did you see how many kids there were?”
I nodded.

“But it was a kinda ok, I think. We played some games and I made some friends. So I think it’s alright if I go back tomorrow. Do you know I have a cafeteria? It’s a whole different room that you go to to eat lunch!”

And with that, she rattled off the rest of her new discoveries. It wasn’t picture perfect overnight, but we both resigned ourselves to new situations and I’m so glad we both learned that letting go means that things are still just as good when we’re back together again.


  1. This post just gave me all the feels.

    Congrats Miss Ashton on starting Kindergarten! She may give you so much anxiety, but her spunky nature and adventures, sure do make for some interesting stories.

    1. You're such a sweetheart. Ashton definitely makes me question my sanity sometimes but she has so much of my heart, it's scary.


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