|Nathan putting bunny ears on my head|
Tuesday, our regular weekly classes started back and I cried all the way home from work. They were happy tears that came on unexpectedly as I was driving and reflecting on the day. I was so glad to see all of our kids; I guess I didn’t realize how much I had missed them.
Even though school started a couple of weeks ago, the normal back-to-school activities haven’t affected me until this week; my daughter graduated from college in May and landed her first job and my son is a student at Calhoun Community College. This past weekend, I had to go to Wal-Mart, and while I was there, I noticed the school supply displays set up everywhere. As I strolled down the food aisles, I noticed all the lunch box items - pudding packs, go-gurts, small bowls of ranch salad dressing that I used to put with carrot and celery sticks in my kids lunches, and felt a wave of nostalgia, remembering how excited my children would get over small surprises in their lunch bags.
Of course, these things have been on store shelves for weeks now, but since I didn’t have a child going back to school, I didn’t notice. It was the crayons that caught my attention first. The Crayola boxes stacked on shelf after shelf, followed by the displays of bright yellow #2 pencils, the spiral notebooks, the backpacks, reminded me of those eagerly anticipated shopping trips I made with my children each August. We would stroll down the aisles of Wal-Mart or Office Depot with our supply list, my kids painstakingly choosing what color notebook they wanted or what kind of lunch box to get while I tried to hurry them along, happy when I could place a check next to an item on the list.
When my children were both preschoolers, I was given advice from an older friend of mine that has stayed with me nearly every day since she gave it to me. She and I were at a meeting at our church, and I must have looked like stay-at-home moms with young children look most of the time: hastily put together because it matters more that your children look nice than that you do; tired, because being a mom of young children is a 24/7 mind-numbing routine of living in the car, cooking and cleaning endlessly, organizing play-dates and outings, making the rounds of weekly lessons in everything from piano to karate; and frazzled from the constant struggle to balance all the duties and responsibilities of running a household and raising children.
She pulled me aside, telling me I looked like I could use a hug. I gratefully accepted her warm embrace and the gentle pat on the back she offered me. Her children were grown, out of college and starting their careers, successfully raised by their beautiful mom who looked casually elegant in her expensive slacks, silk cardigan and fabulous pointed toe sling-back heels.
She said, “You know what? One of these days, but before you know it, your children will be grown. And you will realize that it really only takes about 15 minutes to load the dishwasher. A trip to the grocery store really can be done in 30 minutes. It’s not hard to keep your house clean when it’s just you and your husband. And when you realize those things, you’ll also realize that eighteen years isn’t enough.”
I didn’t understand what in the world she was talking about. On days like that one, eighteen years seemed like an eternity to a young and inexperienced mom like me. But the day I left my daughter in her dorm room at the University of Georgia, or should I say the day my daughter practically shoved Alan and me out of her dorm room on move in day, I cried nearly the entire five-hour drive home. Because my friend had been right - eighteen years was not enough.
As I strolled through Wal-Mart, looking at all the school supplies, I thought, with sadness, that I will never again experience the satisfaction of having a school supply list with a check mark next to each item as it was collected. I won’t ever make another brown bag lunch. I won’t ever be the mother of a child again. I will always be a mother, of course, but the years ticked by without my permission, and I found myself wishing that I could do it all over again. I thought about how lucky I was to have had two children, how lucky I was that I got to be a stay-at-home mom, and I felt sorry for myself that my lucky streak is over.
I felt melancholy the rest of the weekend, but then Tuesday rolled around and Merrimack Hall was filled with the sounds of children once again. When the teens in Project UP starting arriving, I saw them excitedly greet each other and so happy to be reunited with their friends here, since our students come from schools across the county. They were glad to see each other, glad to see our staff and glad to be back at Merrimack Hall. One of our students, a 19-year-old boy with Down syndrome, grabbed me in a bear hug, lifted me off the ground to show me how strong he’s gotten over the summer and said, “Mrs. Debra, it’s me, Bill. Do you remember me?”
How could I ever forget adorable Bill? Or Nathan, or the two girls named Anna, or any of the precious young people who I’m lucky enough to know and spend time with? For me, being with our kids is like what my friends who have grandchildren describe; it’s the best of both worlds. I get to enjoy our students, visit with them, hear about their activities at school but I don’t have to be involved with the other side, like disciplining them, making them go to bed on time, being sure they do their homework. And so, while I occasionally think back wistfully to the time when my children were at home and needed me, those times are mitigated by the blessing I have of being around our students and their families each week. I may not ever be the mother of a child again, but I have about 40 children who know me, love me and are glad to see me each week. And that makes me the luckiest woman in town!
-Debra Jenkins, Chairman