This time of year, my Facebook and Instagram pages are flooded with images of kids getting ready to head back to school. Smiling back from all my screens are new backpacks and sneakers and outfits and haircuts. The parents are mostly happy to get their lives back on track, and the kids are excited for their new adventures.
I remember the start of the new school year myself, poring over my class roster in anticipation of what course would potentially change my life. I remember staring at the bus schedule and figuring out what time I had to leave my house and which corner I had to walk to that year.
My daughter will be in Pre-K this year, which she attends three days a week all year round, so there is no official start of the new school year. “Camp” is winding down for her but all that means is the end of sprinkler time and field trips. There will be an increase in learning and a more detailed structure to her days, but she will barely notice the change.
My other daughter, well, that is a different story. She is not going to school this year. Or ever. Allison was born still in 2011. For 37 weeks, I carried her and loved her like the special gift that she was. And then one day, with no rhyme or reason, she stopped breathing. I often wonder how I did not stop breathing, too.
Allie should be starting first grade this year. She should be getting a new backpack and sneakers and outfits and a haircut. But she will never have any of those things. She will never anticipate (or dread!) a class. She will never ride the bus.
How do you go on with life when a life you were creating has stopped to exist?
Well, this is what I decided to do this year. I posted on Facebook a few weeks ago that I was looking for an upcoming first grader that did not have the means to purchase new items for the school year. I said that my family wanted to help that child.
I found someone that very same day: a little girl who is starting first grade and her younger sister who is starting kindergarten. I talked to my husband, and we knew immediately that we wanted to give to both girls. With their mom’s guidance, we ordered them each backpacks and each a special toy. They were delivered this past week.
Their mom sent me a note that the kids were jumping up and down. They never expected to have new school bags. They would have never even known to ask for a special toy, too. There were hugs and tears – all good.
Their mom also assured me that she would tell her girls that the supplies were in honor of a little girl named Allie who would never have a chance to grow up and go to school. She would tell them in a gentle way that made sense to them and would not scare them.
And then, since we associate butterflies with our daughter, the mom was going to hand stitch a butterfly patch on the inside of each backpack so the girls would always have a reminder of the little soul and her family who brought these gifts to them.
I think that is what my daughter would want. To honor her through taking care of another. I felt so good connecting with this mom and her daughters. The ache for my daughter did not go away, but it hurt less that day. And it hurts less every day I do something in her memory.
That seems like a good way to start the school year to me.