When Your Last Child Starts School: Going, Growing, Gone

Posted September 7, 2009 by

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Every mom I talk with is worried about the food-related aspects of Kindergarten.  Everything from the brain-filling breakfast fuel, the lunch line, afternoon snack and of course, whether to have fresh cookies and milk waiting on the counter at three o’clock so as to entice a full report of the day.  Food is the bribe to get the goods on how many friends were made and whether the teacher is nice.

I’m not worried about the food.

I’m worried about the rest of it.

All of it.

All of me, mine, gone.

I’ll never forget going to visit at recess when my firstborn was in school. I was mid-sentence, near the monkey bars I think, crouched down on one knee, looking into her green eyes and holding her little hand when the recess whistle blew. She slipped her hand from mine, turned mid-mommy-sentence and ran to the single-file line. She had begun listening to the teacher, not mom.

It is just how it is. If we do our job, our children know who to listen to and when, and they figure out the rules. They find ways to fit in to the academic world, where they navigate the social norms and feed their minds.

While my youngest is off to kindergarten and my other children are in their classrooms and my husband is gone to work, I’ll be gone, too.

Gone out of my mind, maybe,  but more likely I will be going to take a nap and finally cleaning my cupboards out, even the one with the spilled molasses, and tackling the silverware drawer that needs sorting and a major scrubbing. Ask my sister Jane, she’ll tell you this is a milestone in parenting: when a mom sends her youngest to Kindergarten and then prioritizes cleaning the cupboards because she knows that with all of her children IN SCHOOL she will now have time to get this chore done.

I’ve met with many a mom over the years as she counts down the days till all of her brood will be back in school.  But I realize I’ve always wanted summer to be endless.

I’ve had coffee with a mom who is back in college and proudly does her homework at night with her kids.  I realize that story problems still make me break out into a cold sweat but that I am also envious of the college students who get to return to fill their heads with new ideas.

I’ve had fruit smoothies with moms who started working out every morning when their youngest went into Kindergarten.  They also claim to burn off calories by organizing classroom parties and coordinating fundraisers.   I realize I regret that I didn’t view flying around a plastic Batman with my son as the ultimate physical (and mental!) exercise.

My friends, my family, even completely exhausted strangers, wise women all, have — over the last ten years — warned me, sometimes with a finger wag, sometimes with an odd smile and a sigh, “They grow up so fast.”  I did not listen very well.  I guess I did not live in the moment enough, did not believe the speed of childhood in the grand scheme of parenting.  I also realize that I have just become someone who will inflict this knowledge on another unsuspecting mother — and she will not listen, either.

Across the nation, about the time that the reading lesson begins in the kindergarten classrooms each morning, moms everywhere, (and some dads too, I suppose) will be assessing new options. Repeating over and over in her head, or writing it in her journal, a  mom is making a plan. “Now, I’m going to go to work part-time and do something I love.”

Over steaming mugs of coffee, another mom is saying to her good friend, “I’m going to continue staying at home where I’m going to actually practice yoga not just do yoga.”

Or some moms will whisper into a Kleenex, her shoulders shaking and her nose running, “I’m going to cry the entire day.”  Then she’s going to call all her girlfriends and have them over for coffee and a donut chaser.

“My youngest is in school now, so I’m going to just take a year and see if I can remember who I am,” says a little voice that hasn’t spoken in years.

That last one is me being very honest with myself.

While I’m on this cliff of opportunity, I’m not sure I am meeting all the criteria to graduate from my real-life parenting classroom.  Can somebody just give me an F and make me repeat this last year?


Annita Wozniak grew up in a large, imperfect family in the Midwest. "As adults we have the power to build children up or tear them down," she says about the challenges of being a responsible parent, "and we never know when what we say is going to be a defining moment in a child's life." Woz is a writer and child-grower living in the Midwest with her husband and their three inspirational children. She is always learning. You can visit her website at annitawoz.wordpress.com

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