My house is quiet and it smells amazing. Gluten-free brownies with swirls of peanut butter sit cooling while regular chocolate chip cookies bake in the oven. It’s the first day of school here and I’m sitting enjoying a moment to myself as I take part in my annual first day of school traditional baking.

Each year since my eldest started his very first day of Kindergarten, I bake for them. I thought of the idea as a way to get him to sit for just a few moments and tell me about his day. I have done it every year since for each child, adding a gluten-free treat when one needed it. And each year, they look forward to what I’ll make.

A week and a half ago, I baked peanut butter cookies to mail to Jarod, off at college in New Mexico so far from me. I sent him a care package with a note asking that he enjoy the cookies and when he had time, Skype me to tell me all about his first week. That Skype call made my stomach do flips and tears of joy threaten to overflow. Letting him go so far away was hard. Hearing his voice was salve for my soul.

As I sit here enjoying the quiet and the smells fill my house, I’m realizing how stressed I’ve been leading up to this morning. I sent one off to college two weeks ago but today I sent my autistic son off to begin his senior year of high school, my daughter off for her sophomore year, and my youngest off to fourth grade. My head hurts just typing that last one. It wasn’t until the last one left the car that the feels just came flooding over me today.

A friend of mine struggled this morning too. Her first born was headed to high school. Our high school is huge and the idea of it can be anxiety-inducing that first day. Both mom and kid were struggling to put on brave faces and take this huge step into the future. Pretty sure she held it together just long enough to drop her off.

Another mom-friend posted her first-day pictures along with the realization that her oldest didn’t look so little anymore. There was shock in her words. How had this happened without her realizing?

All the hours of shopping and organizing school supplies, the time spent picking out the perfect outfits, the baths given and showers ordered, the teachers met and the summer bucket lists finished up, all led each of us to this morning. And in different ways we were all reeling from it.

So if you are reeling from the start of the year, whether that was two weeks ago, this week, or next week, know that other moms totally get it. I get it. You aren’t alone. I don’t think it will feel real for a while that all my babies are so grown up and off where they are for a new school year. Maybe you feel surreal too.

So here’s my assignment for you to cope with the start of new things with your kids: get some cookies. Bake them, buy them, bribe a girlfriend for some, however you need to do it, get some cookies. Oh, and I totally mean you should get milk and cookies too. All those feelings you are wrestling with? You can enjoy cookies with them. You’ve earned it.

Then make time, whether the first day has already passed or not, to sit down with your child with cookies and milk and intentional questions. No phones or interruptions allowed. Don’t ask questions that can elicit a “yes” or “ok” or, the worst, a silent shrug. Ask probing questions, like:

“What was your favorite part of today?”

“What was one thing that made you smile or laugh today?”

“Who did you sit with at lunch?”

“What was your most challenging thing today?” And then, “Do you want to come up with some ways you can handle this?”

“What are you most looking forward to tomorrow?”

And before you know it, they are actually telling you stuff. And you are breathing a bit easier. And the cookies taste yummy and your shoulders feel a little less tight.

Not all of our hard stuff can be solved with cookies. (And yes, I know, food is not love or solutions or WHATEVER.) But sometimes they help as we try to stay connected with these kids that grow up way too fast. I raise my milk glass to you, moms and dads. You can do this.

What are some of back-to-school traditions? I’d love to hear new ideas in the comments.

 

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