As a child, years were not marked or measured by the sequin dresses and party hats of January celebrations but by the excitement and nervousness of entering a new grade in school each fall. The first day of school brought a new beginning, a chance at rediscovering ones place in the world—new friends, new interests, new teachers, knowledge. One year closer to graduation and collage and growing up. Each year the first day of school represented endless potential and progress.
Identity in youth is transient, continuously blossoming with a beautiful angst and energy that is hard to recount now. Somewhere along the way, time begins to shift and patterns begin to stick and commitments and calendar dates trump spontaneous adventures. One year inconspicuously turns into the next, passing in the cold January night. I chased my identity, as most young people do, as it bounced for years between the ideas of who I might someday be- a student, a photographer, a roommate, a caregiver, a wife. All ultimately fleeting.
In the early Fall of 2010, as the cyclical trend was shifting from beach bags to backpacks, my identity was shifting from who I was to who I will forever be: a mother. Becoming a mom was grounding in a way I had never admired before. I became instinctively fixated on the immediate needs, impending joys and continuous hardships of any given moment. Surrendering to a place of new motherhood that temporarily transcends all concept of time. Glowing with the blissful insanity only a mother can sustain.
In the early days of parenthood, the outside world ceases to exist. Bus stops and party hats are traded for sleepless nights and days spent meticulously watching as his tiny feet grow right through his clothes: newborn, 3 months, 6 months. New parents mark time in months and milestones, analyzing each smirk and burp, trying to enjoy what’s in front of us while anxiously awaiting what’s ahead – progress and endless potential.
This week, as the nights are growing cooler and the renewal of a new school year is upon us yet again, I will be celebrating my son’s birthday alone for the second time. He would have been 4 this year. I have all to quickly arrived at the dreaded moment in time where he has been gone as long as he was here. He would be a little person now going off to school, no longer the 2-year-old baby he was when I last held him in my arms.
Last week, as I sheepishly shuffled passed the family filled back-to-school aisles at the store, I couldn’t help but wonder what it feels like to parent a child going back to school. I watched with envy and also a quiet enlightenment that no one can see or possibly understand. I smiled awkwardly as I watched the frantic families gathering supplies for the winter ahead. I wanted desperately to tell them to step back for a moment, to slow down and take it all in. I wanted them to know just how precious these mundane and sometimes infuriating tasks of typical life really are. Because once they are gone it is all you long for.
I miss my little boy. I miss the mother I was and the mother I should be now. I miss the potential for what our life together would have been.
It is unlikely I would have ever had the need to take my son back to school shopping for notebooks and pencil cases, yet I imagine that I too would still struggle frantically to prepare. I can imagine him dressed in his back to school outfit, sitting in his little wheelchair waiting, with mom, for the bus. I can imagine his long bus rides to a specialized school that could accommodate his needs- his backpack full of communication devices and therapy toys, his lunchbox housing a feeding pump and medication lists. I imagine I would feel conflicted between the relief of having a moment to myself while he was away for the day and the terror of not having him by my side. I imagine that as different as our back-to-school would have been this year, in many ways I would feel just like every other mother standing in the back to school isle. An identity that with each passing season, each new beginning, each calendar year, is slipping further and further away.