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!

The no-food birthday treat conundrum — no pencils, please!

Tomorrow is Groundhog Day. February 2nd.

Oh, it’s also Cooper’s ninth birthday. And, yes, every year, we joke about making him stand outside to see his shadow and all of that. Did you have to ask?

So today is birthday prep. Ray is commissioned to do the shopping. I will be working on the birthday treasure hunt clues, cursing myself all the while for starting this tradition that, come to find out, is the highlight of each of my children’s birthdays.

I will also be agonizing over what to send to school tomorrow — the special birthday treat the Cooper will share with his friends.

Yes, I said “agonizing.” Figuring out what to do is awfully hard. We are not allowed to send in food or candy. Cooper is tired of giving and receiving pencils for every occasion (frankly, so am I — we have a giant Ziplock bag of the things, enough to get us through high school, and I’m running out of space.)

He also doesn’t want to be the kid who didn’t bring in anything for his friends on his special day. He’s nine. He wants to party with his friends, if only in a limited way, because he knows that, yet again, this year we don’t have extra funds to throw him a “real” party outside of school. And he hasn’t pouted or complained about it. He’s practical, understands the reality of our financial situation, accepts it when we repeat what we have for the past few birthdays: Maybe next year. Maybe next year.

His matter-of-fact attitude makes my guilt worse, and I fret.  I can’t give him a party with his friends — the least I can do is make his time at school with those friends something of a mini-celebration, his chance to be the birthday boy for a few minutes as his friends smile and laugh and sing, if only for a few minutes of the day?

The easiest thing, of course, would be to mix up a batch of brownies. But I can’t do that, because, as I’ve ranted about before, somebody has decided that the occasional birthday treat during the school day is what is causing our epidemic of childhood obesity. (No, it has nothing to do with the lack of daily gym classes or after-school free time for kid play. Don’t be silly. It’s the cupcakes.)

I’ll probably go to the party store, figure out what I can get for 27 children that is not edible, and, instead of spending a few bucks on a box of Betty Crocker, I’ll spend about thirty dollars getting each one a bouncy ball or something.

It’s funny how, when making that no-treats-in-school guideline, no one considered the added expense to parents of a no-cupcake/candy birthday treat. Is it because I live in a wealthy town, where money doesn’t always seem to be an issue for a lot of families?  Twenty-seven kids is a lot to buy goodie bags for, even if I spend a dollar on each.

On one hand, a 120-calorie brownie that the average 3rd grader will burn off in about ten minutes of recess play. On the other, a fistful of money. Clearly, taking away the brownie is the better choice.

Sure, I can send in nothing. Or he will have to make do with the loathesome pencils. Or what he thinks of as “babyish” stickers.

In the grand scheme of things, this is not the worst pain to suffer. Like I said, Cooper’s pretty easygoing. Whatever happens, he’ll give that little lopsided smile, a small shrug, and move on. He’ll have his treasure hunt and cupcakes at home, just as kids used to do back in the time before birthdays became the mega-celebrations they are today. (Seriously, do you remember having a party with your friends EVERY year? Me neither.) About the birthday treat, well, he probably will get over it in thirty seconds. So will his friends. I know I’m making too much over this, and, having written this post, will now let it go, except to say one more thing:

I sure wish I could make the brownies.