The new school year ushered in some time for me to think about myself again. And not a moment too soon.
My daughter wrapped her arms around me the other night and said softly, “Your butt feels like applesauce, Mom.”
I realized that it had been some time since I had put my needs first and headed down the Prairie Path for a run.
So on Monday morning, with the first golden silence in my head for months, I laced up my worn-out shoes and headed out the door.
A new school year is liberating for most parents, and my freedom was palpable.
If autumn was an hour of a mother’s day, September would be the time after a meal when your sufficiently stuffed tribe had peacefully left the kitchen. The dirty dishes can wait while you quietly pause before the mayhem ensues again.
While some parents of older kids might find their homes a little too quiet now that they've sent their kids off to college and there's an empty chair at the dinner table, for parents of younger kids, fall brings pure bliss.
For some, a child may be headed off to nursery school for the first time, leaving them a precious few hours in their house since arriving home from the hospital with their new bundle of joy. For others, a child has started first grade and will be gone the entire day. Those parents may feel as free as if they had just paid off the mortgage.
As I ran down the street toward the gravel path, I said hello to a few moms whose joy in solitude was obvious.
“It’s wonderful!” shouted a friend in mommy shorthand. We both knew the multiple meanings of that single sentiment.
A tired high five to another mom I knew was further evidence of congratulations that we had made it to this peaceful platform.
Jogging along I noticed how much slower my pace had become in the last year or so. I always say, you can tell what kind of shape you are in by whether cars will stop for you as the dirt path intersects with traffic. If you are looking fit, they will let you whiz by quickly. If not, they can’t afford the time to stop.
Let’s just say, my daughter isn’t the only one who thinks my butt looks like applesauce.
Eventually I made it across the street and was able to let my mind wander to the beginning of autumn and all the things I love.
I thought about chilly mornings, movie date nights and making soup out of anything not nailed down. The kids have been given their marching orders and a fresh identity. My cell phone has stopped blowing up with texts from mothers perched on the edge of insanity, and nobody needs a ride home after 10 p.m.
I also love the beginning of school. Everyone is invigorated with new purpose, and no one has yet been bogged down by a work load and the self doubt that soon follows. Students everywhere are brimming with enthusiasm.
I thought about the previous weekend. An employee at Home Depot helped me load turf into my minivan and asked my daughter when school started. He puffed out his chest with pride to tell us that he was starting school again the following day.
“I quit school for a couple years,” he said, as he lined up rolls of turf neatly in rows, “but I’m back now! I’m going to C.O.D. and hope to get a degree in business.”
I could tell by the way he took pride in his job that he was going to do great things with his renewed vigor, and I told him so. The sweat he labored under couldn’t disguise his anticipation as he wished my daughter a good start to her new school year.
“Good luck in all that you do, and thank you!” I said, feeling his hope rub off on me as I slammed the trunk shut. It reminded me of nature’s changing schedules guiding us.
I kept on running along steadily under the shade of the trees. I noticed how much quieter the Prairie Path was without throngs of York Cross Country runners thundering past me in their summer training.
I thought about my girlfriend who just sent her second kid to college and has been busy signing checks and fretting about finances.
“Somehow or other, through all that we worried about, we managed it!” she said that morning. She was on her way to a late start at work, signaling she had given herself a short, much needed break before leaving the house.
I thought about the ups and downs of the stock market and successive recessions. We’ll have our turn at writing those checks soon enough.
As I turned the corner to hit the final stretch, I noticed a little blonde boy about 2 years old peddling hard toward me on his red tricycle.
“Good morning!” he initiated with spirit, his two neat rows of corn niblet teeth displayed in an abundant sunshine smile. His cheeks grew red as his pudgy thighs peddled furiously.
I thought of the same thing I always think of when I see someone that age: how far my kids and I have come on our path together. Someone else further along was probably thinking the same thing about me when I took my kids out for the day.
Starting to feel my age, I really wanted to stop jogging, but the little blonde boy had put some pep in my step. He'll never know how much he cheered me on with his jubilant little attitude and little racing legs. But he set an example for me that followed me all the way home.
Change will come and change will pass. It’s the only thing you can really count on. Through the ups and downs, you may hit a joyful pace and rub off on someone passing by. You never know who you are going to inspire when you just keep on going.
Entering the house, even our pets look relieved as they bathed in the stillness that had been absent for three months. There is nothing better than the sweet sound of silence the first day your kids are back to school.
Breakfast dishes are piled on top of the remnants of last night’s snack session. Dirty laundry overflows from the hamper and onto the floor. Dog bones and puzzle pieces litter the family room floor, and I don’t mind. My ears are filled with silence and my head is clear. The glorious change of the new school year is here.