It seems like only a minute ago we were filing away last school year's art projects and papers, and stocking up on sunscreen. The sunny months stretched ahead of us filled with so much promise. There would be lemonade stands and camping trips, ice cream dates and endless laps to swim.
Most importantly, there would be time. Time to be together as a family. Time that wasn't so rigorously scheduled. Time to borrow back my school-age child from the world of homework and friends and sports.
And that's exactly what summer feels like these days—a loan. Short-term.
But we made the most of it. We might not have crossed every item off of our summer bucket list, but we soaked up the sun and the long stretches of unplanned hours together. I watched him wear straight through another pair of shoes and marveled as new freckles bloomed across the bridge of his nose. We pushed bedtime back as far as we dared, and rose a little later to greet each bright day. We lazed, we talked, we reconnected.
And then I blinked, and summer vacation was over. It's time to give him back to school. I know he will bloom in the hands of his teachers and grow from the new friendships he'll make. I know he will learn and expand and evolve into an even more wonderful version of the person he is now. But I'm also a little bereft at the loss of precious time with him. This transition, like so much of parenting, is achingly bittersweet.
And that brings me to tonight.
Tonight I tucked him into a bed of fresh sheets.
Downstairs there is a backpack hanging on a hook, cleaned and stocked with his name printed on it, waiting beside sneakers that have never been worn. A new lunch box sits in our fridge containing a sandwich, a yogurt, a cookie, a love note.
Tomorrow morning he'll put on the new clothes that are all laid out and ready. He'll smile benevolently for 59 pictures by our front door before a bus will ferry him away to school, for the first day of another year.
But that's all tomorrow. Tonight, as I perform these rituals (which are surely being performed right now in homes everywhere) I try to calm my own nervous mind with this meditation, this prayer of all parents on the night before the first day of school:
Please let the other kids be kind.
Please let my child be always kind to others.
Please don't let him be too afraid―there is nothing so hard for me to see in his face as fear.
Please let his teachers truly see him—notice even one iota of his gifts and talents, of his quick brain and fierce determination, of his impulse to make a friend of anyone.
Please let him succeed.
Please let him fail.
Please let him want something or try something and have it not work out.
Please let this happen now, while he is still so young, and then let him bear witness to the sun rising again the next morning, that he might know that to fail is simply human. Let him fall and get back up again. For I want him free and brave, not weighed down by perfectionism like an albatross around his neck.
Let him wonder and question.
Let him be taken by surprise.
Let him grow in every way.
Let him come home to me and know that to cross the threshold of this front door is to have claimed sanctuary.
Let him know in his very bones that at the end of each day, good or bad, he is known and loved and rooted for and championed.
Let him flourish.
Let me be able to let him go.