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For Your Marriage

Josh and Stacey Noem have been married for almost 20 years and have three children in middle school and high school. They blog about parenting and their adventures as a family.

First Day of School

I am bad at the first day of school. Not me personally. I think I did my first days of school just fine. But my children’s first day of school, every year, is not so good.

It’s not that I am completely under-prepared or have crazy expectations of how the children should be or how the morning should go. We wake up in plenty of time. Dress, eat, pack and then I always take a picture of them before we get in the car.

I think things hinge around the picture. Sometimes I still look at the picture of Oscar on his first First Day of School.

See, when Oscar was just 20 months old, we were starting grad school. In order for Joshua and I to both be in classes at the same time Oscar was going to have to be occupied and we decided that the best fit for our family was Montessori school. And it was—Montessori schools have been remarkable for our children.

But that very first First Day, as a parent, was a little rough. I think that may have been the first time in my life that I realized stress is stress because it isn’t obvious. It’s not like a sore throat, where you wake up and you know you have it. And it’s not like a conflict you have with someone, where you know it won’t go away until you address it.

No, stress is a little more insidious than that. And that morning, Oscar’s first day, I had it. I thought I was going through the morning with an even keel. But (probably lucky for Joshua) my parents were visiting and can attest to the fact that I was out of control. I wasn’t the “freaking out” kind of out of control; I was the “try to control everything” type. (I wonder how common a feeling that is for mothers generally: when out of control, do we try to compensate by trying to over control the situation?)

Anyway, the main things I remember from that morning: First, being short-tempered when we were trying to take pictures in the front yard. It seemed like everyone had a plan that just was not the same as the plan I had. Second, sitting with my parents at breakfast after we had dropped Oscar off.

I was still a little high-strung at breakfast. I don’t remember what Mom said then, but it was something that just acknowledged how hard it is to be a parent on the first day of school. And I started to cry. You know that feeling when someone just hits the nail on the head with how you are feeling? That was it: it was hard.

It is hard to be a parent of a newborn, and a baby, and a toddler. Then, just when you are getting the hang of being everything for this child, you hand him over to other people. How could I leave my little boy? (It was only for 3 hours — but still.) How could I entrust his formation to other people?

Then there is the picture. My little 20-month old Oscar. Standing, alone (I tear up even now typing it, let alone looking at it) next to our bird feeder in the front yard. Just looking back at the camera like “What are you doing?”

Despite the fact that there is a happy ending to his first day of school (and his entire academic career to this point for that matter) and to that of his younger brother and sister, I think some part of me taps back in to the stress of that first First Day of School every year. These are my dearest little children. How can I entrust their formation to other people?

I guess that is what being a parent is about: learning how and when to let go a little. I knew I wasn’t an expert at parenting when he was born. I learned how to take care of and even anticipate his needs. But there is always a point when facilitating his greatest potential for growth exceeds my personal capacities. When someone else just knows how to do some things for my children better than I do. And by entrusting my children to them, I am giving up a little control over their environment, their influences. That isn’t always an easy thing to swallow as a parent. It takes a little faith.