There was no denying the fact that the school year was indeed half-way over as my boys clutched their crisp white envelopes in their hands, standing before me, nervous in their anticipation and craving my praise. It probably seems a little early to begin ruminating on the 2010-2011 school year; however, as a mother of school-aged children, my years aren't simply measured in calendar years but in school years and last Friday's report cards were a flashing reminder that yet another year was passing me by. And, this school year will certainly be remembered as the year my children grew up. And I'm still struggling to catch my breath at the mid-way point.
My oldest daughter, Cassie, is officially half-way through her junior high school years (Thank goodness!) with all of the resolutions to the world's problems easily tumbling from her mouth at the dinner table. Sure, she can feed the starving children in the world ("Duh -- just look at our waste, can't we just pool our resources and stop throwing out so much uneaten food?" She rolls her eyes as she carelessly destroys her own dinner with her utensils), but she spends agonizing hours just waiting for her first kiss and learning the fine skill of eyeliner application.
In fourth grade, my middle son, Phillip, asked me to stop greeting him at school, which is incredibly difficult as I am a regular volunteer in his classroom. He politely told me that even though he loves me, I embarrass him in front of his classmates when I ruffle his hair, smile at him or acknowledge his existence in any way. I reluctantly agreed to restrain myself and now have to pretend he is invisible until we walk into the house, where he catapults into my arms. Phillip also informed me in August that we can't shop at The Children's Place anymore because those clothes are not cool in fourth grade. Oh, and to be really cool in fourth grade, he also needs an XBOX 360 with bloody games. The wii is just not cool enough. Apparently, our family needs to adhere to a strict diet of boxed macaroni and cheese to outfit my fourth grader in Abercrombie and afford the latest technology.
And, then, there is my youngest, Brooks. Brooks, my last baby, is sailing through first grade with a cocky swagger and a cheeky attitude. He is a first grade rock star and trouble on Heely's (the roller-skating shoes of death). School is just a frat party without the alcohol. He shows up to hang with his friends and the girls. He doesn't want to spend any time at home with his mama, when just two years ago, we still had snuggle nap-time together. If it is a sport anywhere in the world, he wants to play it. I have to bribe him now for kisses.
How have I changed this school year? I am still re-living every single wretched junior high moment, shun and awkward social exchange through my daughter. I have learned to smile through my stinging tear-clogged eyes as I greet all of my son's friends and yet ignore the only child whose greeting I really want. And I have learned to sneak into my baby's room while he is gone, reach up high into his closet and pull the impossibly tiny blue and white gingham outfit, the adorable little piece of clothing we brought Brooks home from the hospital wearing, and snuggle it to my chest. I close my eyes and imagine cradling each of my babies. I remember the feel of their compact weight in my arms, the way their fists would curl around one of my fingers, their downy baby chick hair against my cheek and watching the little rise and fall of each breath while they slept.
I know that they have to grow up. I've known that it would be difficult. I just didn't realize that I was going to feel this heavy, suffocating sensation in my chest as I am forced to fake my joy and ignore the stinging in my eyes and burning in the back of my throat as they leave for school in the morning without me, as my daughter exits our house to ride the bus as if she owns the world, as my fourth grader rejects my repeated efforts for him to wear a jacket, as my first grader dashes onto the football field with only victory in his eyes. But I'll keep smiling and cheering and trying desperately to concoct the magic potion to freeze time. Just until I can catch my breath.