I see you.
I'm the one hanging back, clinging to the little piece of shade that I staked out years ago. I've been here for a while now, some days it seems like I've been here forever.
Maybe because I have been here forever. I've had kids walking through these doors for ten years straight now.
You're new here. This must be your oldest? First day of school, huh?
I remember that.
The shiny new backpacks and the ironed shirts and the hair combed just so.
Maybe you have a younger baby perched on your hip or in a stroller beside you. Maybe you're pregnant with the next one in line.
I see you fighting back those tears, trying to be strong. Whispering words of encouragement in unsure ears, whispering to yourself as much as to them.
It seems like it was just yesterday that I was you, bringing my oldest baby to school for the first time filled with anxiety and worry and hope and trepidation. I remember the nerves. I remember following the bus to school for the first week because he wanted to ride it and I wanted to let him, but I needed to make sure he got where he needed to be.
I remember the pangs in my gut when that bell rang for the first time and the door to the classroom opened, like a portal to the future of some kind where the child who entered was never coming back again, where the child who would exit that door just hours later would somehow be more grown up, more independent. Different.
I remember dwelling longer than I should have, making small talk that even seemed unnecessary at the time, trying to get a glimpse into the person who'd be guiding him in this new endeavor.
I remember bowing out of the room after locking eyes with my baby one last time, knowing that it was time to go. I remember knowing in my heart that he'd be okay, that they'd all be okay, that even the little one crying in the corner was going to be okay.
I remember knowing that we had to go. We all had to go. We had to get out of the room and out of their sight and away from it all so that the teacher could do the most important job of the first day of school and hug whoever needed it most for however long they needed it.
I remember sobbing in the car, watching the last five years pass by my eyes in an instant. It goes by so fast, and it will only get faster, that much I can promise you.
Time never slows down. I know that now.
I remember how ridiculous it felt to be so upset. I remember people giving me a hard time about it all, telling me I was silly for feeling those feelings.
I'll never tell you any of those things because I get it.
I'll tell you the truth about parenting. It's bittersweet, almost all of it. You'll be proud of every single milestone, and you'll cry. A lot. They will mostly be tears of happiness. You're going to cry a lot at school, and those of us who've been here a while are used to it. We'll pass you a tissue. We get it.
I remember how eerily quiet it was at home without that one there. Even if you have younger kids still at home, something changes when the oldest goes to school. And then something changes each time another one goes. It gets quieter and quieter and all those moments of chaos and exhaustion and frustration where you'd longed for silence seem like a distant memory now with them gone.
Even if it's for a few hours.
I remember how much I thought I'd be able to get done without them there, and just how little I managed to ever get done. I remember finally sitting down alone for the first time in forever and not knowing what to do with myself.
I remember watching the clock, waiting for it to be close enough to being time that I could justify sitting in a parking lot. I remember pulling into that parking lot and not being alone, seeing it filled with the other new moms and dads. Nods of solidarity.
Eventually, we'd get out of the cars, find our way to one another, make introductions that began with the names of our children instead of our own. We weren't just us anymore, from this day forward for all of eternity, we were so and so's mom or dad to an entire group of people. That wouldn't ever change. It won't ever change. Some of us would and will struggle with that reality. Some of us will lose ourselves entirely, wrap our whole identity up in being mom, in being dad. Some of us will find a way to make our peace with it. Some of us never really will. You'll see.
I remember waiting outside those doors again for what seemed like forever, wondering what was going on behind them. Did he makes friends? Did he have fun? Did he eat his lunch? Did he struggle? Is he where he should be? Should we have waited another year?
Finally, the bell would ring and the door would open and children would emerge, one at a time, desperately scanning the faces of all the parents waiting.
I remember when I saw his face that day. Smiles. He ran to me and told me all about school. What he liked and didn't like and how he made friends but he can't remember any names yet. He still does that now, by the way. Even in high school.
But, oh I remember that first time.
I remember him almost falling asleep in the car on the way home the first day. I remember how exhausted he was, how long the adjustment took.
I remember the relief I felt when I knew for certain that he was going to be okay.
Since that first time, I've done it three more times, each child with a different set of circumstances, a different set of needs, a completely different personality. I've felt all those feelings and all that relief every time, and I see you.
I see you.
I feel you.
It will be okay.
They will be okay.
And so will you.
I've been here forever.