A family's story

The Back-to-School season is one of my favorites. It always has been. I love the promise of a new school year, new lessons, new topics, fresh supplies, renewed friendships. I love the excitement. I love the shiny new folders and un-crinkled corners of notebooks. I love the bright wax of new crayons, and the shimmer of unused water color paint. I love the sales on pens and pencils, art supplies and baggies. I love it all.

The weather in the Midwest during this time of year is a treasure, as well. Nothing beats a crisp, cool morning. There is something to be said for the ability to step outside and inhale deeply…filling the lungs with this cool air and exhaling completely…it’s refreshing. Getting the little goosebumps on one’s arms and watching the hair stand on end. It’s a welcome respite from the heat and humidity. The afternoons warm up substantially. They are fit for picnics at the park, bike rides, and “Family Fun Day” at school. One must savor these days, as they are fleeting. In the evenings, one can wear shorts. Or jeans. Or throw on the over-sized sweatshirt that’s been waiting in the recesses of the closet. It is glorious.

In early adulthood, once I had finished my four years at school, I missed the excitement of back-to-school. I would roam the aisles of Target or Kohls and glance longingly at all of the promotional items. I would buy a notebook, or a set of pens–just so I could feel like I was a part of it. Once we had Jake, I started counting down each back-to-school season until I could go buy supplies and clothes and backpacks and all of the “fun” stuff for my children.

Our first year of back-to-school fun was in 2009. Jake was entering kindergarten, and Tate was attending the 3-year-old preschool in our district’s Early Childhood program. I got to buy backpacks, folders, crayons, pencils, and glue sticks. I remember standing, stymied, in the baggie aisle, searching for 2-gallon sized Ziploc bags. I remember my euphoria over finding said bags. (Hey, now, I was a newly-minted SAHM with an 8 week old, special needs 3 year-old, and 5.5 year old. I was due that much. ‘Kay?!) I would call my mom, and she would share my giddiness. She shared her memories of me and my sisters as we prepared for our first days of school. My mom was as much of a back-to-school junkie as I was, having been a teacher for 30-some years.

On our boys’ first day of school in August 2009, it rained. Just like it had rained on MY first day of kindergarten several years before. It was nostalgic. We took numerous pictures. Hubz stayed home and helped out with the boys. Tate’s backpack was so heavy that it toppled him backwards. We laughed. We smiled. We had so much hope. As Jake climbed the stairs of that ginormous yellow bus, we waved and wished him well…and then sighed with relief when he found a seat and waved back. We then got Tate on his special ed bus. Hubz had to lift him up the stairs, as poor Tate’s legs were too short, and he was too uncoordinated to maneuver them by himself. Once they were at school, Hubz and I looked at each other and high-fived. We did it!!

Hubz uploaded several pictures to Facebook for the families to see. Immediately my mom and Hubz’s parents commented on the cuteness. We had several friends with kindergarteners that year, so we all spent the morning ooh-ing and aah-ing over each child’s “First Day” pictures. It was a terrific re-introduction into back-to-school season!


Back-to-school 2010 is a blur. Looking back, I truly do not remember much of it. I know I somehow managed to get my boys’ their supplies. We got them new outfits for the first day. They made it to school on that first day…Jake started on a Tuesday. I think. See, my mom was in the hospital because she had a fairly substantial seizure. It was a side effect of her stroke…which was a side effect of her pancreatic cancer. I was torn between two worlds. One with my boys, where the future was bright and full of promise, and one with my ailing mother, who was in the twilight of her time here on Earth, where the future meant the inevitable…

On the first day of school that year, Jake had a half day, but Tate had a meet-and-greet. We walked Jake to school, and then I took Tate to his classroom. Feeding off of my anxiety with everything going on with my mom already, plus back-to-school anxiety was an awful cocktail for my beautiful boy. He barely made it in the door of his classroom. He began to stim with some play food items (asparagus, if I recall, as they were “stick” like). I did my best to give a run-down of the chaos that was our life, and the teacher nodded sympathetically. She said she’d help Tate along..and would fill the social worker in on the family situation. I thanked her profusely, and we attempted to get Tate to stand still for a picture. The picture that they were going to use on all of his items: locker, seat, job chart, etc. When we got that picture at the end of the school year, I could see the motion lines around his little body. Oh, Tater…

Once we got Tate to school the following day, Hubz uploaded our newest batch of back-to-school pictures onto Facebook. We’re all smiling…but we look hollow. Fragile. Or maybe that’s how I think we look, knowing what was going on in our lives at that time. That night, while at the hospital with my mom, I showed her the pictures of her “boyos”. (Ok, I am tearing up, just typing this…oh, how my mom loved her “boyos”.) She smiled her crooked post-stroke smile. She let out a little chuckle, one that sounded like “her”. Then she sighed. That night, my mom told me that she felt badly about taking so much of my time. Despite my protests that I wanted to be there, she simply nodded and said that it was time for me to be there for my boys. I said I could do both. We both knew, though, that I couldn’t keep doing what I was doing for the long-term. I left the hospital in tears. That weekend, which was Labor Day, I sent a message to my boys’ teachers….letting them know how dire my mom’s situation had become..and explaining why my boys may be distracted or anxious. It was not the best way to start the school year….and in many ways, I think it’s self-preservation that keeps me from remembering, fully, that back-to-school season.


Last year, 2011, was stressful, but ok. The boys were ready for school. I got to go supply shopping–and enjoyed it again. They helped me choose a new shirt for their first day. Tate ultimately refused to wear his, but at least he was part of the process. We walked Jake to school on the first day. That was becoming our newest tradition. The boys were excited, and Jake was a bit nervous. As we waited in the lines before the kids went into the school, Hubz had to take Tate away from the action. The hustle and bustle was too much. Luckily he founds solace next to the bike racks, where he spun his scooter tires round and round…immediately calming him down.

Once we got Jake safely off to school, Hubz stayed home with Cole, and I took Tate to his kindergarten classroom. We met his fantabulous teacher…she was a quintessential kindy teacher. She had a gleaming smile, and a gentle soul. She was young and energetic. Tate warmed up to her immediately. He let the aide take his picture for the job board and his locker. He checked out the various areas of the classroom, stopping at the computer table. He wanted to play. When I said no, he started to whine, but thanks to his fantabulous teacher, he stopped melting. She let him type on the keyboard for 5 minutes. He was in heaven.

By the time we were done, it was time to get Jake from school. We stopped and picked him and our neighbor up from their first day of second grade. They were excited. Smiles were plentiful, and the energy was contagious. We were back on a back-to-school high. As usual, Hubz uploaded our Back to School pictures. The school year was off to a good start…and I was able to exhale.


In two days, we will do this again. For the first time in 3 years, I feel confident. I am excited. I have high hopes for the 2012-13 school year. I look back to where we were at the prior back-to-school seasons, and we are prepared.


Comments on: "This time of year is bittersweet" (1)

  1. I know in my heart, your mom is still watching and enjoying that same back to school excitement of years past. I can understand how all these emotions can be tangled with each other from my own experiences with my mom. I’m glad you feel prepared. You sound so strong.

    The photos are beautiful. I see nothing hollow in any of them, just parents and children who love each other. My favorite is Jake and Tate on the chair together! You are gorgeous! And I do have to confess, I bought some colored pens for me this year! I love school supplies too! Can’t wait to hear how it all goes! xoxo

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