“I feel nervous.”
“Why do you feel nervous, honey?”
“Well, it’s the first day of school tomorrow…and it’s a new school. I’m a little scared.”
“Don’t be scared. You’re going to be just fine. Just be yourself!”
If that conversation was between my daughter and I, I would deserve all kinds of great mom accolades. I took charge of that conversation and calmed my kid down. However, this conversation was between my husband and me on the night before my kids’ first day of school. Yup, that’s right, moms get “night before” jitters too…and they look just the same as our children’s jitters. The struggle is REAL.
We recently moved to the northern suburbs of Chicago from the downtown area. My husband and I are both originally from New York, so now we’re starting over… again. We got used to everything in the new city except the lack of space, so we packed up and headed out. The first priority for us, after finding a home, was finding a good school for our kids. We have two children, ages 5 and 2. This school came highly recommended and won me over in an instant on my visit. Check.
So here we are, the Sunday night before the first day, and I’m freaking out. Priorities: I need to choose my first day outfit. Now, this is no easy decision like, say, a wedding dress. That’s easy—white, maybe cream. It’s long. Maybe the toughest decision is strapless or with straps.
The first day mom outfit? Now, that’s real pressure. Do I go with, “I threw on gym clothes because after drop off I’m headed to the gym?” I’m thinking that could look too sloppy and maybe show off a bit too much, considering I haven’t visited said gym that often this summer. Do I choose casual jeans with a cute top? OK, where are you headed after drop off? Lunch and shopping?? People might think that’s a bit much considering I’ll just be going back home to fight about not eating Ninja Turtle fruit snacks at 9 a.m. with my 2-year-old.
I finally settled on a combo: Yoga pants, tank, and hoodie. Casual, comfortable, and cute. ARGH!!! Hoodie’s not clean. So here I am, 10:30 at night, throwing it in the wash. “Are you really doing laundry now?” asks my husband.
“Yes! My outfit has to be PERFECT!”
As the hoodie turned in the dryer, so the thoughts churned in my mind… I don’t want to get there late, but I don’t want to be the eager beaver that gets there too early either. Who will even be there? I met some moms beforehand—will they be there? Will they remember me? Did I get Evie the right backpack? She picked out princesses and I was so focused on celebrating the fact that it wasn’t specifically a Frozen backpack…again, that I forgot to pause and think if the pre-k circuit still carries princess backpacks. Oh well, I think she can pull it off.
Morning arrived and we got ready in harmony with plenty of time to spare. HA! No, actually, it’s complete chaos. We’re in a new home with zero routine. With vague semblance of order we managed to get dressed, brush teeth, and grab our backpacks with minutes to spare. We headed out the door and made it half way down the block before I backed everyone up.
Whoops! First day pictures. In all my fretting about fitting in, I forgot the sign. THE SIGN!!!! The sign that tells everyone it’s the first day of school. The same sign that could be accomplished by a caption in a photo on Instagram or Facebook. These signs that used to just say “First day of school!” but now have morphed into mini resumes on a chalkboard. I shudder to think what they’ll be like in 10 years…billboards designed by Simon Doonan? I digress. I just took a photo. A plain photo with an old school caption.
We made our way to school and my heart started racing. Will they be OK? Will I be OK? Will this school be like our last school? Will they find friends? Will I find friends? Will they get asked on play dates? Will I get asked for moms’ nights out? Just then, my daughter turned to me and said, “Mommy, I’m nervous… I’m scared.”
My answer? “It’s very normal to be nervous. New things can be scary, but we’ve done new things before and we’ve been great at them.”
I think I was trying to convince myself, too.
We walked into school and we all got a very warm welcome from the staff. We made our way to the classroom and as we walked in, we were greeted by very cheery teachers and introduced to the morning routine. I said a quick hello to a few familiar faces and made some small talk about settling in. There was even some vague talk about setting up play dates. We all found common ground in celebrating the fact that the first day was here and Camp Mommy had finally come to an end.
These first day jitters have taught me a lot. Even as we grow older, there are some parts of us that may never really grow up. The first day of a new school can turn a 40-year-old mom into a third grader who tries to hide behind her braids. But I’ve learned that it’s OK to feel these things and that these fears can even make me a better mom: I can be in touch with what my children are feeling, empathize with them, and help them through a tough situation.
I’ve been through a million first days of school and what I’m realizing is that even if I’m not the one going to school, there’s still a lot to be learned.