After a summer of constant mothering and all things tween girls -- ice cream cones and boy crush movies, neon nail polish and icy cold lemonade, afternoon swim sessions with late summer night secrets -- seeing my girls go back to school again has left me feeling out of sync.
As much as I want to expand into the quiet, empty space, claim it as mine and finally clear my never-ending list of things to do, there is something about that first day of school that tugs at my mother's heart.
Today was my daughter Zoe's start to middle school and at 6 a.m., I stood nervously surveying her pile of stuff stacked on the kitchen table. After only a single cup of coffee, I was working extra hard to concentrate, double-checking my mental list from the school year before. There was a super-full backpack, an extra water bottle, extra snacks, a purse with toiletries, extra cold wipes for relief from the Arizona heat, her medicine and an iPad, and the power wheelchair was charged and ready for loading. Check, check and check.
I turned away and called for Zoe, asking her to meet me in the bathroom. I could hear her moving quickly down the hallway in her walker as she called out, in her tween, sing-song way, "duhh, Mom... I'm already on it."
I am gonna miss this kid. The way she tells me she is tired each morning, yet pushes her way through the day, determined to accomplish each goal we set.
The expectations she has, the little ways she inspires me to try harder and do more, wash over me. And even though she is 11 now, it is Zoe's little girl hands I still see when she tenderly turns my chin, tips my face to hers and touches her lips to mine. Saying thank you, thank you, thank you for all of those little things we mothers do, the things most children don't say thank you for, but my child does -- simply because she can't always do them by herself. Those little mother tasks that fill our hearts with joy and make us remember baby lips and forgotten new mother, new baby honeymoon love.
Our school goodbyes began on Zoe's first day of kindergarten, following five years of almost nonstop needing. That fall, I lingered in the baby aisles at Target, walking up and down, breathing in and out the intoxicating scent of powder and infant newness, stroking mini cotton onesies and wondering if hmmmmm,
Maybe we should try again,
And hope this time for a baby boy.
Instead, I settled into the quiet of school days, satisfying my urge to nurture with a new puppy that filled my mothering wants and needs, and brought new giggles and anticipation to after-school pickup.
I remembered all of these moments as I took Zoe's picture this morning, her first day of sixth grade, as she smiled so sweetly. My thoughts began to drift to babies and puppies, and I bit my lip to hold back tears.
And then, in full tween sass, Zoe told me "Stop. Taking. Pictures."
And then did this.
And I was proud of my girl who has multiple disabilities, the only kid on her middle school campus who uses a wheelchair, of how emphatically she expresses herself.
So, I smiled a loving smile and again, held back my tears.
And then, she did this.
And suddenly, I really saw my almost-grown girl, my sometimes sassy, sometimes stubborn daughter who knows how to stand up for herself, calls herself smart and can convince others she is capable. Still sweet enough to cry if her feelings were hurt, still vulnerable enough to want to be liked and still kind enough to make friends, she just might be strong enough to hold her own.
And there I stood no longer holding back tears and not thinking about babies or puppies .
Instead, I high-fived Zoe, promising, "Girl, you are gonna rock middle school! "
And then I hurried home, yearning now for quiet space and stillness, and the forgotten familiar pleasure of discovering and simply being alone with my own thoughts again.