Over the last month or two, I’ve accumulated school supplies like I’m outfitting an entire classroom. I got the list from the school’s website well before anyone told me to and set out to buy supplies while the store employees were still stripping the seasonal shelves of pool toys and replacing them with three-ring binders. There’s an Aldi canvas bag in my living room stuffed with Play-Doh, dry erase markers, colored cardstock, “my first” Ticonderoga pencils, paper towels, and enough Crayola products to make the whole thing look like an affiliate sponsorship.
But the weirdest part is that I can’t seem to stop buying lunch boxes.
My lunch box cabinet — because yes, there’s a dedicated space for them now — is crammed to capacity with various containers for keeping my son’s food contained while he’s at school. Any time I’m at a store and see a kiosk of lunch boxes, I stop to consider the options and the price (only $10! Wow! A deal!) before telling myself firmly that he doesn’t need another one. And even then, I might still buy it.
I mean, he needs lunch boxes, right? He can’t just go to school and carry his food in a brown paper sack. He needs a Bento box filled with cute food cutouts. He needs insulated rectangles with pockets and zippers and bells and whistles. Besides, how is anyone going to know how cool and special he is if he doesn’t have his favorite subjects (space) and cartoon characters (Pokemon) plastered all over his things?
Maybe you’ve realized at this point, like I have, that lunch boxes aren’t really the issue here.
It’s true that I have literally bought a lot of them over the last couple months. But what started as a way to make sure he’s got something cool to help him handle this transition from being at home all the time to being in a strange place surrounded by other kids has evolved into a coping mechanism for his mom, too. Because the real reason I keep buying so many lunch boxes is that I’m trying to make myself feel better about this next stage in our lives.
For the last six years, I’ve been wading through the well-charted but still baffling waters of early childhood, where the days really are long and the years really are short. It literally feels like I only just recovered from the sleepless newborn nights. And then I blinked, and here we are, crossing off school supply lists and filling out paperwork and planning out days in which my only child will be in the hands of someone else for seven hours a day, five days a week.
I couldn’t wait for the first day of kindergarten, but it came too soon.
I’ve always loved school. Even as a kid, I couldn’t wait for another year to begin. So long before I even had a child, I looked forward to the days when I could attend field trips and help with class parties and ask about what they were learning that week. I looked forward to it, and I’m still excited by the prospect. But now that it’s come, I’m just like every other parent who’ll be blubbering in the car on the first day of school.
I’m going to miss our lunchtime movies, our spontaneous trips out in the middle of the week when older kids were in class, letting him wear his pajamas all day (because who cares?), and the knowledge that he’s here, with me, at home, under my charge and care.
I knew that these days would come to an end, sooner than I imagined. I knew it, but it doesn’t make it easier. As much as I want him to go to school and meet new kids and learn, there’s a part of me that will always see him as a squishy, tiny human who can’t possibly be old enough for this. I suspect that’s true of every parent at every stage, whether it’s the very first day of school or the very last.