Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Staples Got It Right, or, It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

You remember this commercial, don't you? The first time you heard it, I'm sure you wondered why the TV was playing Christmas music in August (or, more likely, July). But then you watched this exuberant dad riding through the aisles of Staples on his shopping cart, happily buying back-to-school supplies for his stonefaced children to the refrain of the Christmas song, "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year." The clear implication being, of course, that parents see the first day of school as being even more wonderful than Christmas.

I got it, but I never REALLY got it until this year, when I actually WILL be sending both my children off to school at 8am on Tuesday, August 30th. (And yes, I do know exactly how many days, hours, and minutes it is until then.)

Don't get me wrong: I love my kids, and I love spending time with them. But after nearly 7 years of stay-at-home parenthood, I need a break. THEY need a break. Sure, they've gone to nursery school and gymnastics and dance classes and playdates and all kinds of other activities that have gotten them out of the house and listening to other adults besides me. But there's something different about school.

I think it's because school is an unavoidable, long-term commitment. Nursery school lasts for only two or three years; kids may eventually lose interest in gymnastics and dance or turn to other interests; playdates and friends will change over time. But school will take up the majority of their time and focus for the next 13 years. How they perform over those 13 years will shape their futures.

It's a pretty big deal.

I will no longer be the primary educator and disciplinarian in their lives. From 8am until 3pm every weekday, someone else will make and enforce the rules. They will have multiple new authority figures who are not Mom or Dad. That is a huge change for them and for me.

I'm confident that they'll deal well with the change. I've given them a solid base of self-confidence, personal skills, and curiosity which should serve them well in a school setting. They have respect for authority, interest in learning, and a friendly outlook. I've spent the past 5+ years preparing them for this moment.

But no-one's been preparing me.

For the past 7 years, a huge part of my identity has been being a stay-at-home parent. My JOB was to be a parent. And I was on call 24/7 at that job. Yes, I have an awesome co-worker, but he has a full-time job of his own, so I was the primary on this job. And my hours have suddenly been slashed. I'm still pretty important, but I suddenly find myself with unassigned time to be filled. And I'm not quite sure what to do with that.

Maybe I'll get a job outside the home. Maybe I'll find work I can do from home. Maybe I'll finally write that best-seller that my husband is convinced I have inside me. I just don't know. It's a little terrifying, but it's also a little exciting.

And it's very definitely the most wonderful time of the year.