Back to school… The Most Wonderful Time of The Year…not so much

I’m not sure who is behind the idea that this time of year is one we as parents all look forward to as wonderful, but I’m willing to bet it wasn’t an only parent raising their kids without the benefit of the other person who brought them into the world.

Like so many other experiences we face, this annual occurrence is by no means simple.

Not only are we reminded that our children are growing up and taking on challenges that they will never be able to share with their lost parents, but we are faced with the more basic realities of our situation. As only parents, we are responsible for coordinating it all: The shopping, the scheduling, the early mornings to catch the bus, the lunch making, the homework help… Not to mention the managing of the resultant exhaustion of both our children and ourselves. I can’t speak for anyone else’s experience, but, in my own, grief, exhaustion, and children are not a good mix. It’s probably one of the most volatile combinations, and the school year with all it entails seems to breed it.

So, every year, when these sentiments hit the air, I can feel my insides start to seize a little. I know what is to come.

This year, there was a new campaign in the mix to give me cause for thought. It highlighted various types of Moms dealing with the issue of back-to-school shopping.

The On A Mission Mom.

The Overly Enthusiastic Mom.

The Emotional Mom.

All over the top, dramatic characterizations not meant to be taken literally, I’m sure, but that didn’t stop me from drawing comparisons. Maybe, ultimately from seeing where my experience has been so different.

I mean, I get being on a mission. You just want to get in and get out. Get the task at hand done. But unlike the TV mom, I had years of not having anyone to call to come pick me up when I was done. I had to see it through to completion on my own. I got in and out not because I was efficient but because I needed to for my own sanity.

I also get being overly enthusiastic. Not because I truly was, but because I felt I needed to be. I needed to portray a positive perspective to mask that I was trying not to completely crack under the pressure of being forced to do all these things again. Alone.

And of course, I identified with being emotional as I saw my girls grow up. Like any parent would I’d say. Except that it’s not any parent who sees these things through the eyes of grief. Who doesn’t just reminisce with their spouse about when they were small but who aches for their spouse to reminisce with? Who isn’t just proud of them for maturing but who is proud because they are maturing into strong and beautiful people in the face of a tragedy so great it could have by all rights destroyed them?

I found myself wondering, somewhat cynically, what type of mom would the grieving-only parent mom be? Not one who would be easily characterized for mainstream TV, that’s for sure. Something tells me that the haunted eyes and the vacant expressions of the “Oh man, I am IT” mom wouldn’t be seen as entertaining.

Like much of what we face day-to-day, the reality of our back to school isn’t something that our society as a whole, thinks about. And I know with every year that passes, some fewer people understand. I suppose that makes sense on the outside. As time goes on, we get used to the routine. The responsibility. Our emotions, although never truly predictable, tend to become more even. We develop coping strategies. We find support. We may even find partners so that we are no longer truly alone. Perhaps we are now less haunted and more determined. More of a “Hey, I am doing this!” Mom.

These are all good things. Things to be grateful for in their time. But what doesn’t change (at least not for me) is this.

With every grade, my children conquer. With every accomplishment, they achieve. Life is taking them further from who they were when their dad knew them. They are forging their way without the tangible physical benefit of his love and his counsel. My heart breaks that he isn’t here to know them as I do. My heart breaks that they will never know him as the people they are becoming.

I suppose that, after years of experience, I can acknowledge there are things about this time of year that are wonderful in their own way. Practical things, like the order in the chaos that can come from the routine and structure of the school year. Or humbling things, like the gift of being the one here to see your children rise to new challenges. The truth is, despite the passage of time and the gaining of perspective about the start of the school year, I have to say that, rather than the big box stores, it is Green Day who more accurately captures the sentiment of this time of year for me.

“Wake me up when September ends.”


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