Ah yes, it’s that time of year again when I find myself with butterflies swirling around my tummy. As a little girl, I remember associating the smell of brand-new Number 2 pencils with the start of another school year. This was both exciting and scary, like the first time I rode the Tea Cups at Magic Kingdom. I wanted to ride, but I often thought I just might throw up. Now that my babies, my sweet possums, are embarking on their journey to “real” school, the swirly butterflies have returned.
It was actually my typically stoic husband who first started me thinking about this bittersweet beginning (or ending). Naturally, I’ve been sort of dreading the end of our summer of innocence. The last summer before we have to worry about homework and “mean girls” and standardized tests and the world being unfair. I’ve been worried about opening up the protective cocoon and letting Charlie and Poppy spread their wings in this big ol’ universe. Sometimes I look at them with their wide-eyed naivety and it nearly breaks my heart. Just yesterday, I woke up to find that Poppy had sneaked into her brother’s bed at some point during the night for an extra cuddle when she was scared. I wanted to take a picture, but I didn’t want to disturb or embarrass them. I did take a mental snapshot, though, that I will look at often. In my mind, they are still so perfect. When I think about this precious time, it reminds me of perfectly clean, white snow that has not yet been disturbed by curious dogs or dirty tires. You just want to inhale it and keep it so. As a last hurrah before school starts, I thought it would be fun to send the kids to Adventure Camp. Each day of the week, they get to explore super fun places like The Children’s Museum, Roper Mountain Science Center, and Otter Creek Water Park while making new friends and getting our their wiggles. Though I didn’t think about it at the time of registration, my husband observed that this was the first time we’ve sent them away on such a big adventure without a familiar hand guiding them. Yes, they’ve been to pre-school for a few hours each day and they’ve spent numerous hours with loving babysitters, but this was different. They were going to be away from us, with strangers, for eight-hour stretches five days in a row. Gulp. Cue the butterflies. Would they be brave on that first day of camp, walking into a brand-new venue knowing not one soul? Would I? On the way to camp Monday, they asked the usual questions. “Will you be coming with us? Do they know we have to wear our life jackets? Did you remind them that we’re vegetarians?” They were preparing themselves for a day of unknowns the best they could. We walked into the school hand in hand. As we approached the crowd of small strangers in bright orange t-shirts, Poppy and Charlie squeezed my hands harder and started walking more slowly. I sensed their hesitation. Their questions morphed into, “Will we be in the same group? When exactly are you coming back? Can we go to work with you instead?” When we arrived in the circle of orange, they were initiated with their own t-shirts and introduced to the counselors. They tried to be polite and mind their manners, but they kept turning their heads around to keep a solid eye on me. “Are you really leaving us alone here?!” they seemed to say. As soon as I saw they were in good hands, I furtively scooted out the door, walking backwards and blowing silent kisses. When I got back outside, in the oppressive heat, I felt those butterflies again. I knew the possums would certainly be fine once the activities began, but it’s always that specific moment of transition that is the hardest on all of us. The letting go. The saying good-bye. The last reassurances before starting a new chapter. As if reading my mind, my husband sent me a text saying how much he was thinking of and missing his family. We were on the same nostalgic page. Driving to work, I realized that Adventure Camp was not just a big fun distraction but also a dress rehearsal for the first day of the first year of school. These lump-in-the-throat feelings are not unique to me, I know. Every mama and daddy is probably having similar feelings this week. I ran across a blog just this morning that reminded me of a Dave Barry article about his son’s first day of Kindergarten.
“I remembered a Dave Barry column in which he drives his son Rob to Kindergarten for the first time and as they sit in the car outside the school, saying goodbye, Rob asks, “Daddy, how long do I have to do this?” and he can’t bring himself to answer, but he thinks, “Forever and ever.”
I went through most of my day feeling wistful and nostalgic. Hundreds of memories of their first five years flooded over me. First steps, first words, even first tantrums. When Russell came home from work, he seemed happier than usual to see us. He asked Charlie and Poppy dozens of questions about their big day. He held Mary Hazel high in the air and tickled her ribs. I sensed that he was feeling the same as me. Just when we were settling in to enjoy our Norman Rockwell dinner, Charlie made some rude noises. Poppy responded by giggling uncontrollably. The dog needed to go outside (again). The baby rubbed her eyes and threw half-chewed grapes on the floor. Chaos was back. The pond of reflection was rippling once again with normal day-to-day life in the Hinson house. The children were apparently unaware of how their well-intentioned parents were feeling that day. And even though the dinner hour was even more hectic than usual, it was reassuring to know that a giant leap like starting Kindergarten would not significantly change life as we know it. Not all at once anyway.
It’s almost our turn on the Tea Cups. Getting nervous and sweaty over here. But it’s time, I suppose to get in, buckle up, and spin madly on.