By Brenda Black
Once upon a time, I was shopping for backpacks, pencils and ruled paper in early August. The approaching autumn and school activities merited new clothes and shoes that fit our young sons. It hit me like a ton of bricks how long ago that now seems, as I watched hoards of families stock piling school supplies on “No Sales Tax” weekend. I nearly bought a box of crayons and a coloring book for myself, just for the sake of nostalgia. Besides I've heard it's great therapy for alleviating stress.
Funny how, on this side of time and distance, one only remembers the wonderment of back-to-school preps. We deny there were hassles and headaches. We conveniently forget how big of a dent the new clothes, paste and gym shoes put into our pocketbook. All we recall is smiling, cherub faces gleaming over Disney lunch boxes.
Perhaps this pollyannish mindset is the transfer of our own childhood memories upon our offspring. Truth be told, I still have my pink Tinker Bell lunch box. To me it still smells like tuna fish sandwiches – the good kind with sweet, homemade pickle relish and just the right amount of Miracle Whip -- lovingly cut by my mamma into perfect triangles that little hands could easily grip.
Wouldn't it be nice to turn that polyurethane insulated lunch bag into a time machine so that every time your baby opened it, the clock stood still and they stayed little. Then, once in a while, we could borrow it's magic, flip up the lid and step inside and go back to our own time of innocence.
So much for dreaming. We can't stop time and we can't go back. With the honor of motherhood comes happy memories as well as heartache. It would be nice if babies came with a guarantee of staying tiny. No colic, no tears, no toddler crashes, no loneliness on the playground and no teenage tragedies. It would be comforting to not have to worry over tough tests or deceitful friends or twenty-something break-ups. We'd like to think our child's life a bed of roses and innocence. But in the end, such a child would be spoiled and weak and have no history or meaningful memories. For all of life's experiences shape them into men and women we'll respect and upon which we may even depend. The whole of it is what makes watching them grow up worth the pain of letting it happen.
The instinct to provide and protect never ends. A desire to catch them before they fall or kiss all hurt away is protocol in the parent guidebook. That's what moms and dads do. We buy the supplies, we shuttle them to the practices. We check their progress and we carry their burdens like they were heaped in a backpack and strapped to our own shoulders. We watch them grow, without our permission, and cling to the memories of when they were little.
Then, one day, we look up to them. We step under the arm of a towering son, instead of holding him in our lap. We laugh like adult friends instead of warring like a mother at odds with her teenage daughter. We watch them launch. We celebrate their marriage. We welcome grandbabies and start the process all over!
Back to school takes me back in time. Back to when my children were babies. Yep, I think I'm going to go get that coloring book and use it as a bit of therapy to occupy and ease my mind, here in my empty nest.