For the past three weeks, my Facebook feed has been full of cute kids wearing new backpacks holding signs declaring their first day of school. Worn down by the virtual peer pressure, I asked my husband to take “chalkboard portraits” of our kids as they headed off for their respective first days. I felt sad to miss the excitement as my son reunited with his friends for pre-kindergarten and as my daughter set off for her very first day of preschool. But for them, every day is exciting so they were not concerned that I was not present to drop them off or pick them up on that first day. Although I believe it is important to celebrate milestones and emphasize the importance of getting an education, the first-day-of-school photos are not really for our kids’ sake. They are for us, the moms and dads trying to mark a moment in time by drawing a chalk line in the sand. We fawn over the photos with current nostalgia, knowing that we will look back on our little darlings at the end of the school year and marvel over how much they’ve changed.
Growing up, school years and terms were the metric of time even more than weeks or months. It was the first day of a new school year, not New Year’s Eve, when we made resolutions about what we were going to do and who we were going to be. Eighth graders seemed so old when we were in sixth grade, but by the time we made it to the top of middle school, we realized we still didn’t have it all figured out. Without the artificial school clock ticking through our lives, adulthood tends to run together in a blur of work punctuated by a few memorable experiences. Then we have children, and the speed of their development presents us with a new timepiece.
Living with a four-year-old, a two-year-old, and a four-month-old, I am keenly aware of the never-ending march of time. As any physicist will tell you, there is really no such thing as the present. As soon as we are aware of something, it is already past, and while we are anticipating what lays just ahead, we are contemplating the future. “Now” is essentially just a figment of our imaginations. My motto is “these are the days” because I know that no matter how noisy, messy, stressful, or exhausting they seem at the moment, in a few hours, days, weeks, or years I will look back fondly on this time with my small children. That perspective makes the hard days more manageable but the wonderful days more bittersweet (or “a little bit happy and a little bit sad” as my son likes to say).
All too soon I will be waving to my kids on the school bus, sending them off for seven-hour school days (with homework to do after that). So even when I feel like I might drown in my “to do” list, or go crazy from the mess, I make myself stop to re-read a favorite book, examine a funny bug, or join a spontaneous dance party. Those moments are not memorialized with photos and shared with the world, but I hope they are the ones I remember when I look back on these “good old days.”