I admit to spending more time over the past few days than I care to admit looking at Facebook pictures of my friends’ children on their way to the first day of school. Was it so long ago that Max and I took a photo of our precious daughter on the first day and last day of each school year? It can’t be. But yes – she is now 26 and, as president of her class, on the way to planning a 10-year class reunion in fewer than 730 days.
My friends’ photos bring back those long-ago days when we took pictures of Emily in what she would carefully select as the clothes she wanted to wear on the first day of school. I remember the year we had been to visit a friend of Max’s in Colorado, and we had found some fabulous outlet for children’s clothes. She picked out several outfits at that store and chose to wear one on the first day of kindergarten, the one with leggings and a long sleeved T-shirt. She – and the clothes — were sopping wet with sweat when she arrived home after her first day at un-air conditioned Horace Mann Elementary.
Ever the fashionista, on her first day of preschool, she chose to wear khaki shorts and a black T-shirt because they were classic and matched her backpack. The first-day photo several years later shows a very chic skirt and blouse she bought the year we made her attend George Brett’s induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame – where, I must add, we saw our neighbors, the Ditzfelds, from across the street. You can never tell who you will run into when you go to important events halfway across the country!
Emily became complacent about the photos Max and I insisted she pose for by the time she was a junior in high school. Her facial expression in those pictures says, “Please. Do I have to do this again?”
But I wouldn’t have missed a one of them. Those days passed, as I can see now, so quickly. They were as ephemeral as the smoke from a fall bonfire. You see it, and then it is gone.
Oh, we recognize it as it’s happening, as they grow up and change from toddlers to young adults, but not only can we not stop it, we don’t really want to. After all, what is the alternative? This growing up, this separation, is the way it’s supposed to be. They grow up, we age, and then all of a sudden, we are posting pictures of our grandchildren as they head off to their first day of school.
But I don’t have to like it.
I liked the days when anticipation of the new year at school was almost palpable, when we would take in the scent of the pencils, the new crayons, and the new markers, when we would carefully select the year’s notebook and label it as hers. I liked checking off the items that the school required for the coming year as we eagerly stalked the aisles at K-Mart or Staples, looking at the newest and brightest colored desk accessories. I remember arguing about whether mechanical pencils were really a necessity and then giving in because at least she would use them.
We splurged on art supplies, because Emily loved – and still loves – creating art. As much as I wanted her to engage fully in music, she wanted instead to paint, and so she always began the school year with a full contingent of brushes, watercolor paints, colored pencils, acrylics, and on and on.
Obviously, I miss those days. And as I read my friends’ Facebook posts, I want to tell them to forget about crying because their babies are headed to kindergarten or junior high or high school. I want to tell them to enjoy these days. The crying can come later.
Deborah Mitchell is a a local attorney and a Municipal Court Judge.