It wasn’t that long ago that I was helping my three kids get ready for their first day of school. I had a 4th grader, a 2nd grader, and one going into kindergarten. I cried when I dropped them all off, and at least half of those tears were from joy and relief. Aside from the occasional girls’ weekend away, I hadn’t had six hours to myself during the day since my oldest was born. I was getting a respite —some space to breathe and figure out what the next phase of my life would be. Maybe I’d start writing a book, tear down the kitchen cabinets, or learn to speak Italian.
But I was also a bit heartbroken because, for a really long time, I had been home with a young child who needed me. That had become my life and it was what I knew. It was an adjustment, both emotionally and logistically.
Of course, it got complicated again, the year I had one child in high school, one in middle school, and one in elementary school. They all had a slightly different pickup and drop-off times and there were so many different events to attend, papers to sign, and emails to read. I had days when I’d be driving down the road and forget where I was and what the hell I was supposed to be doing. I’d email a teacher about the wrong kid. I called the wrong school to let them know my child would be sick and not in school that day more than once. I once showed up for a concert on the wrong night. I just wanted it all to be over.
My oldest graduated in 2021, and I was so happy because he was so happy — he hated school — but also because it relieved a bit of the pressure. I no longer had to worry about his school work; there were fewer emails to read and school functions to attend. I only had two kids’ school careers to keep track of, which felt much more manageable. I only forgot where I was going a few times (instead of weekly).
But that feeling of relief was fleeting. My daughter was lying next to me on the sofa yesterday when she reminded me it was time to go back-to-school shopping. That’s when it hit me that she’d be a senior this year, and it would be the last year I’d see more than one of my kids walking into school together after dropping them off. It’s going to go by fast, too. It seems like each year zips by at a speed faster than the one before, and I don’t have time to catch my breath.
Before I know it, I won’t be dropping my kids off at school at all. No more sitting in the parking space and staring at the back of their hoodies. We won’t have those conversations in the car after school and share that moment each morning where I tell them how much I love them and to have a great day. I won’t be picking them up and taking them out for ice cream on Fridays. There won’t be friends piling in the car to bring to our house while I eavesdrop on their conversations.
A few short years ago I was literally doing everything I could to keep my head above water and now here I am, wishing it would slow down so I could soak up some more of the quality time we get because I’m driving my kids from place to place.
I know I still have a few years left but I also know how fast those years are going to go. I know this is what’s supposed to happen and it’s what I signed up for when I became a mother — but that doesn’t take the heartbreak out of your kids growing up. Nothing really does.
Katie Bingham-Smith is a full-time freelance writer living in Maine with her three teens and two ducks. When she’s not writing she’s probably spending too much money online and drinking Coke Zero.