Back to school with a new normal

Who can even remember the school routine from last year, and this year it’s all changing for Sam Davies anyway. So many things to do and feel, all at once.

Photo by: flakeparadigm

In too few many weeks, school starts, and my little family’s summer rhythm will be crumpled up into a ball, unfolded, straightened, cut with scissors into tiny pieces, balled up again, separated, and then taped back together. Our five-year-old will be a kindergartener, and our eight-year-old will be starting third grade at a new school.

The house will be empty during the day in a way it’s never been before. Sure, the girls have had extended trips to visit grandparents, so my wife, Kat, and I have had the house to ourselves before, but this emptiness is the new normal. Our past eight years in Richmond during which we always had at least one kid to take care of during the day, have been the anomaly. For the next thirteen years, our normal will be to wake up and help a child (and then a teenager) get off to school, then live exclusively in the grown-up world for six hours.

It’ll be more work in the morning. The new school starts an hour earlier, so that means an earlier start for us. Two kids means having to make sure two lunches get made. And the new school is “Richmond far,” meaning it takes a whole 15 minutes to drive there. New routines for everybody, different from what we had to do last year, and radically different from our summer schedule of sleeping in until the kids poke us in the face demanding to be fed.

It’ll also be the first time that our daughters will be at the same school. What will that be like? Will they acknolwedge each other there? Will they ignore each other? How does that even work? My brother and I were five years apart in school, so the only time we were in the same school at the same time was when I was in kindergarten and he was in fifth grade. My frame of reference is very limited.

And I’m glad it’s still early enough in our kids’ schooling that my eight-year-old only has to be “the new kid” as a third grader. That feels young enough that the children are just starting to learn how to be nasty to each other, and isn’t the default you’d find in middle school. I, of course, am going to worry about her, but knowing my little extrovert, she’ll probably be fine.

Every kindergartener is a “new kid,” but I’m anticipating major upheaval in my five-year-old’s life, because it’s a big change for her. She’ll come home exhausted, cranky, hungry, and we’ll help her through that. We’ve cleared her calendar of all scheduled activities for the fall in anticipation.

Kat and I will also be transitioning. Not just to the absence of the children during the day, but to entering a new school’s parenting culture. Even as introverts, we’ve developed relationships with the parents we’ve seen at pick-up and drop-off and at birthday parties, and while we don’t have to give that up with our current friends, we will have to start that process over again as we become involved with the new school. I’m sure everyone will be caring and welcoming, but as introverts, it’s not our natural state to socialize. It’s work absolutely worth doing–establishing new relationships with new humans–but to us it still feels like work nonetheless.

Offering new experiences in independence is what we’re supposed to do as parents. But this milestone, having all of our kids in school, has me a bit misty eyed. You’d think already having one kid go to school would make me more prepared, but this occasion is making me mourn a little how much my kids don’t need me as much as they used to. In reality, this happens every day, I just don’t always stop and notice it. It’s OK to feel nostalgia, pride, and freedom, and, this “back to school” has me definitely feeling all of the above, all at the same time.

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Sam Davies

Sam Davies is the father of two daughters (ages five and eight) who lives in Northside Richmond. He and his wife Kat are trying their best to not raise sociopaths.

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