As summer fades into fall I can’t help but get excited about everything to come. The smell of crisp fall leaves, the beautiful shades of reds, yellows and oranges on the trees, and the first cool morning. I’m looking forward to enjoying a hot cup of coffee, while I wrap myself in a sweater and breathe in the fresh air from the open windows in my home. Right now, it’s too hot to enjoy any of that. Hot coffee is just survival at this point, it isn’t enjoyable and iced coffee doesn’t give me the same vibes.
I also look forward to my electric bill hopefully going down because right now the air conditioner is exhausted by all the running we have it doing. I also cannot take anymore clothing off without being arrested, but I’m looking forward to fall layering. The most basic thing I am excited about are fall flavors. I live for anything pumpkin flavored, and I don’t care who doesn’t like it. I’ll take pumpkin spice coffee, donuts, cereal, creamer, etc. It’s cozy and just the thought of it makes me feel calmer.
This also means that we are on the verge of the start of school. For some parents it’s the most wonderful time of the year. For others it’s the most emotional time of their life if their child is attending school for the first time. For some it’s even a little sad knowing that their child will graduate in the spring this coming school year.
As I reflect on September firsts, I feel compelled to share my first day of school as a mother. Our oldest daughter, Ava, is one of the youngest children in her grade. With her birthday being in August, she literally just turned 4, one week prior, to starting her first day of preschool. The anxiety and worry that consumed me was like a force I never felt. Even though I was excited for her I also terrified that she was not going to make it home. She couldn’t read yet and was taking the bus to and from her babysitters. Two weeks prior to the first day of school I was nauseous. Every night I would lay in bed and stare at the ceiling, I would cry, my heart would race, and then I’d end up on my left side holding my little peanut because I couldn’t bear to think of her growing up. Every day over those two weeks as I tried to mentally prepare. I decided to ask Ava questions to ensure she would survive the first day of school and make it home safe.
Me: Where do you live?
Ava: In a house.
Me: What’s your address?
Ava: Um… I dunno, it has a 3.
Me: What’s my full name?
Ava: Mommy Griffiths.
I remember picking up the phone and calling John.
“We literally cannot send her to school. She doesn’t know my name or where we live.”
Followed by crocodile tears by yours truly.
I remember grabbing the mail a few days prior to the start of school. There it was the dreaded name tag. It had a sticker with a crocodile on the front, her name, teacher and bus number all intact. My eyes welled up and I brought the tag inside and promptly grabbed my PVC tape. I coated the tag three times with tape to ensure it wouldn’t rip. I then proceeded to punch a hole and secured a safety pin. I also packed this poor child’s bookbag like three days in advance. The closer the countdown the more insane I was becoming. My days merged into one lump of sadness and before I knew it the countdown was quickly over.
There we were, the first day of school had arrived and Ava couldn’t be happier. She picked out a pretty dress, put her hair half up, picked up her bookbag and posed for pictures. On the outside I was smiling, but John knew I was emotionally not good on the inside. The ride over to Linda’s (Ava’s babysitter) felt like slow motion, but when we pulled up to the house, I saw about eight tiny faces in line waiting for the bus. Linda was leading the charge looking out for the bus. She was telling our children that they needed to stay safe and look both ways when the bus arrived as they crossed the street. When the bus pulled up, Linda walked the kiddos across the street and helped them all onto the bus. As I watched my girl walk away, I could feel the tears start to build. I watched her get into the bus, get buckled up with the help from the bus aide, and wave back at me. I waved back forcing a smile. I hugged John goodbye, cried, and walked briskly to my car and as the bus left so did I.
Until now I haven’t really shared this, but I drove to the Early Childhood Education Center (ECEC). I parked in the parking lot and waited for Ava’s bus to arrive. I watched her step off the bus and walk slowly into the building with her little buddies. Then, I sat in my car sobbing. I cried for about 10 minutes and reapplied makeup for five. With my car air conditioning on full blast, my tears dried, and I made my way to Philadelphia for a typical workday. That day went by so slow. Every single hour I wondered what my girl was doing, if she was eating her snack, listening to her teacher and having a good day. I remember the text from Miss Linda. Ava is here, she had a great first day. That text made my life. This was a huge milestone, not only for Ava but for me. She had to grow and so did I.
This year that little girl will be in eighth grade; the time has truly flown by. And now just like the first day of school her first year, I am sad knowing this year she will graduate eighth grade.
I am extremely proud of our growth together; she truly paved the way for me as a mom. I say this because when Lily and Keira started school, I was still nervous, but the fear wasn’t there like it was the first time. So, to all the parents dealing with first days of school this year, wrap yourself up in a warm sweater and grab yourself a hug with a warm cup of coffee knowing your kiddo is going to be OK. They are going to have a tough day just like you, just be there to ensure them you love them, and you’re so excited for them. You can always cry in your car or after they leave.
Cheers to all the firsts this year, find solace knowing you aren’t alone in your feelings.
Loraine Griffiths is a fifth-generation Hammontonian, graphic designer, wife and mother of three. She can be reached through email at LifeWithLoraine@gmail.com.