Every year, right about this time, most mothers I know are collectively exhausted.
We have stayed home with our kids, driven to and from summer camp, pools, vacations (ha, yeah right, like we moms actually get one of those) and countless park play dates. We have invented games, licked hundreds of ice cream smears off cheeks and cleaned up after endless homemade projects. We've broken up fights, fought against boredom and applied sunscreen until our hands, purses and clothing all smelled like summer.
Then, sweet September hits.
On that first day back to school, I am always filled with a mixed bag of emotions. My youngest, just starting preschool, still has the exuberance and wherewithal to jump for joy when she sees character backpacks and yummy lunch treats. My tween, just beginning middle school has already been tainted by homework and social pressure. She is giddy with excitement to wear her first day outfit, but anxious about the new demands a departmental curriculum will bring. My two teens, a high school freshman just starting anew and a senior with one foot already out the door are bundles of nervous energy and angst - not knowing what this year will bring, but certain it can't be anything too great if it's in a building full of conformists and educators.
As for me, I look forward to getting back to routine. Ah, lovely routine. I immediately launch into lunches, jumping awake earlier than we all have been in months and rallying together the tired troops.
Breakfasts are popped fresh from the toaster, backpacks are prepared, photos are snapped (some smiling ear to ear, others barely cracking a smirk), sleepy eyes are rubbed and dishes are hastily left on the table as we march one by one out the door to greet another year.
As I drop the children off or they leave with their carpools, I feel the tears well up in my eyes - as they've done since my oldest, nearly 17 now, made his first trek off in a backpack larger than his tiny body could handle. These tears flow naturally, as if they were just waiting for this release. They mourn what has passed and hold anticipation for what is to come.
The first stage, a trickle of joy, for surviving a hectic summer schedule without losing it totally. Then, harder, as the little twinges of guilt - for what I should have or could have done with them or for them - surface. Maybe I should have planned a day alone for my little one? Perhaps another girl's day could have been squeezed in. Should I have spent more time with my son doing 'man' things?
Anger follows, for feeling that guilt, and with it an internal shouting match with myself to get it together.
At this point, I am usually sobbing uncontrollably in my front seat a block away from eyesight of any other parents who are likely performing their own annual rituals. Some have happy dances, some, slower paced coffee-filled morning stops, and others, phone calls to friends they left behind way back in June.
Finally, the climax. That bittersweet understanding that my children grow up - whether I like or not.
I pull myself together with a sniffle, a tissue and a reality check.
I breathe deeply, close my eyes and see all the mini versions of my children over the years on this first day of school. I let that feeling of deep pride and accomplishment wash over me. Okay, time to go home and tackle those breakfast dishes in peace and quiet.
Sara Kutliroff is a freelance writer and blogger trying not to forget the "me” in mommy.
See more of Sara's stories here.