08/22/2011 10:47 am ET Updated Oct 22, 2011

Back to School, Back to Sanity

The big yellow bus is once more rumbling down our street, signaling the end of summer and the beginning of another chapter in my life. My youngest is now in kindergarten. Big brother and little sister stand together at the bus stop, he surreptitiously looking out for her, his fear for her safety and feelings only slightly stronger than his fear of being caught caring.

I stand here and think of all the emotions I should be feeling, that any normal mother would be feeling at this momentous occasion in her children's life -- a deep sense of pride, hope for the future, nostalgia for baby days long gone, and maybe even a little fear about what lies in store for these innocent young people. I should be crying.

So why, then, am I doing The Happy Dance in my driveway as the bus is pulling away?

A friend once told me of this phenomena. She spoke wistfully of a sort of unbridled joy that springs forth as the bus pulls out of sight on that first September school day, causing her to literally break out in an uncensored demonstration of bodily movement.

At the conclusion of said display, she sends around her annual e-mail congratulating us all for surviving another summer, and encouraging us to locate what's left of our sanity and rejoin civilization.

I've always read these e-mails with mixed emotions; happy to be included in the group, and yet somehow sad for these parents who are overjoyed to be sending their children back to school. I always thought I should just be cc'd, rather than directly addressed, because the e-mail didn't quite speak to my situation.

And it's too bad, really, I would think to myself as the dancing emoticons skipped across my computer screen. I must have the most extraordinary children, because I've felt nothing but sorrow these last few years as they went first to preschool, and then pre-k, and now elementary school. In fact, I cried each time.

So color me surprised when I started dancing the jig with the other parents on the street as the bus pulled away. I didn't even know that I knew the jig.

And I find it somewhat troubling, I don't mind saying - not that I know the jig, which is an entirely separate issue, but that I'm so happy to send them off to school. I used to ask my son, "Gosh, sweetie, I love you so much; what will I do when you're in school for the next twelve years?" To which he always sweetly replied, "You'll sleep, mom."

And I would sigh and think, he's so smart. But having my kids in school, I thought, will nevertheless be a sad, lonely time for me. Oh, sure, I might grab a nap here and there, but I wouldn't be happy about it - and I certainly wouldn't be celebrating it. No, sending my kids to school was going to be a devastating transition in my life.

And it was, really... for about seven seconds. That's when I realized that I was a mother like any other, with wonderful children who, when they're home, necessarily take up 100% of one's time. And to the applause of the other parents present, I joined in the dance.

I don't know why I resisted so much. Maybe I felt guilty, thinking that by needing time for me, I was somehow negating my love for my children. After all, I had two healthy, wonderful kids relatively late in life, with no complications -- how dare I need some alone time! I should appreciate what I have and show that appreciation by spending every waking moment with them!

This begs the questions, then: Am I supposed to feel guilty for wanting my kids back in school? Does it make me less of a mother, somehow, that I miss my alone time, my cleaning time, my writing time? Am I saying to all the world that I don't love my kids because I can hear the school bus a block away like other mothers can hear their babies cry in another part of the house?

No, no, and no, if you were looking for the answers there. I love my kids just fine, thank you. And I am able to show them that I love them much more easily when I'm relaxed, sane, and yes, napped.

Looking around at other parents, I'm realizing that it's okay to need some space. In fact, I bet it's healthy. You show me a parent who can give his or her all, 100% of the time, and I'll show you a parent who's about one shrieking child away from an extended mommy or daddy time-out. And that's not good for anybody, let alone our kids.

Yes, it's almost September once again, and as my youngest joins the neighborhood kids at the steps of the big yellow bus, I will join, finally, the generations of parents who have come before me, parents who have paid their dues and arrived, guilt-free and without fear, at this driveway where I now stand.

Parents who, at this moment, are busily waving their arms and moving their feet to the immortal words of the Bee Gees, who said we should, in fact, be dancing.