A new school year: it’s not just for kids.

This is the week that many parents are wiping away tears, amazed that their babies are starting this grade or that grade or heading off to college or finally accepting a full time job and signing an apartment lease.

I am not one of those parents. Back-to-school does not break my heart. 

Okay, at the bus stop yesterday, the first day of school, I was a little weepy when Joanna told me that I could cuddle with her beloved stuffed Snuggle Puppy after lunch, since she, as a first grader, would finally be in school all day, and I’d be left alone for afternoon “quiet time hour.”  I am stunned that it’s a short year until Mitzi begins the seventh circle of school hell — middle school. I cringe that soon I will have to talk to fourth-grade Cooper about…um, boy stuff. And I can’t quite figure out how Ellie all of a sudden became this person in second grade who reads full books and calls friends and ties her own shoes and does not look back (although she hugs me the hardest, and that is always heart-squeezing.)

But mostly, I smiled. And, inside, I did a little dance.

It’s been 10 years since I’ve had more than 2 hours to myself on any given day. This summer was supposed to be laid-back, easy. And it was. Kind of. We had some fun. We did a bunch of stuff.  But after a few weeks, the kids were too much together, too much in each other’s spaces, and there was too much conflict. By August, I was ready for school to start. By mid-August, so were they. Not because they don’t love each other or me (they do, I know), but everyone was just ready for their own *space.* For routine.

We had a last-blast weekend on Cape Cod over Labor Day — the first family vacation in over a year. It was whirlwind and amazing and even more special because it was so short and we had like thirty-five seconds to squeeze in every tradition we could manage before moving onto the next. And every minute that I spend with my kids I am grateful (okay, sometimes it’s hectic and irritating too, and a whole lot of work, but mostly, when I breathe deeply and step back, I am grateful that I have been blessed with these four incredible, mysterious and amazing creatures).

Still, today was the second day of school and I was…peaceful. Unrushed. I have been cleaning (long overdue) and am spending this week trying to get organized so that starting next week I can use my time productively. Do my paying job. Post here. Focus on the freelance work (hey, I have an essay in Family Fun magazine’s September issue!). Revise the MG. Revise a few picture books. Write something new! Query agents! Get back to the yoga mat. Go for walks. Take better care of myself — mind and body and creativity — so I can take better care of my family.

What I love about school, for my kids, is that it’s a chance for each of them to stand out as individuals — and I see it in their eyes and hear it in their words when they come home every day, that they are starting down the road which will lead them to themselves. Letting go is not entirely hard for me — letting go is when their wings unfurl and what’s more beautiful than that? — and letting go does not mean saying good-bye. After all, home is where they return to, and home is safe, and home is Mom and Dad, and home is what gives them the power to fly again tomorrow.

Leaving, coming back. Building muscles, resting. That’s what growth is.

After 10 years, I’m ready to start down that same road. I will always be first and foremost a mother. But I am also more than that. And by attending to the latter, I can be better at the former. Six hours a day  just for me?

I might even invite a friend to lunch. I might take a nap. I might start a business.

I can use the time to finally forge ahead in the career I have been trying for, longing for.

I might rediscover me.

The school day, six hours long — school, six hours of creativity and learning and growth. September is not the official grown-up New Year, but who says it’s just for kids?

Parents — it’s your school year too. Let’s make the most of it!

Warm weather, new flowers, and kids roaming free. Or not?

Spring has sprung! Let the wild rumpus begin!

Around here, we’ve seen pretty mild temperatures for weeks, but now we can officially adorn shorts and flip flops without reservation. The kids are thrilled to be spending as much time as they possibly can outdoors, and from what I’ve seen driving around, every other child in town feels the same way — they’re out in yards or on their bikes or just wandering down to the Cracker Barrel for a slushie.

Which has me wondering –at what age is it okay to do this?

We live on a pretty busy street that doesn’t have a sidewalk — well, there is one, but you have to cross the street to get on it (no crosswalk) or walk over a neighbor’s yard to cross another street (no crosswalk) to get to the sidewalk on our side. From there you can use a crosswalk. So, when we bike or scoot or walk somewhere, I inch out and stop traffic so my ducklings can make their way without fear.

Needless to say, I’ve been hesitant about letting the older kids wander freely. Which is not to say I don’t — I’ll stop traffic so Mitzi can cross to meet a friend who lives down the street. Or for Cooper, so he can drag his hockey stick to his buddy’s house in the development across from us. But letting them go makes me a little nervous.

Still, they’re 10 and 9 and we live in a pretty safe town. When I see clusters of kids ambling along in the bright spring sunshine, I realize that perhaps I’m ready to take the plunge. I have to trust that my own kids are smart enough not to stumble into traffic or walk on the train tracks or get into a car with a stranger. That they can walk to the corner store for a bottle of water and nothing bad will happen.

I read a blog post on Boston.com yesterday on this very topic. The author articulates very well why we adults today have this deep fear of letting our kids roam free, and nicely sums up why our fears might actually be more irrational than based in reality. For instance, a child has more chance of being abducted by a relative than a stranger, and we have more in place to help protect our children (for instance, Amber Alert). But our fear persists, and she wonders if it has something to do with the immediacy of media — when something bad happens, the news spreads quickly and loudly, and scares the bejeebers out of parents everywhere.

But we do have to let them go, eventually. We have to trust that we’ve helped them develop the skills they need to take these baby steps away from us, because, well, they need to become independent eventually. Small ways first, certainly, but parents know better than anyone how fast the years go by, and before we know it, they will be heading off alone.

I think of this as I watch Cooper jog up the street, clutching a stick in one hand and a puck in the other. He gets to the corner and waves at me, then disappears around the bend. My heart squeezes and I close my eyes. In my mind, I can see him galloping along, his friend meeting him halfway, can almost hear their laughter whipping on the wind as they slap one shot after another into the driveway net.

It’s time to let my little ducks try to make their way.

As long as they call me when they get there.