I get stuck on this day between glee and gratitude and fret and fear. Between the hope of new beginnings and time to myself and the torment of the ridiculously fast passage of time. I relish the way this season in my life opens me up to vast possibilities: write a book, run a marathon, take a new Bible study class, have a lunch date with my husband. At the same time, as I watch a boy turned man saunter out the door, I curse my inability to go back to soggy Cheerios stuck in blond curls and a pudgy Pampers-clad bottom snuggled on the couch watching Blue's Clues.
I spend much of the morning scrolling through Facebook photos of kids with bright new backpacks and shiny new shoes. Some hold signs showing that they have marched on to a new grade or even a new school. They've made their own decisions about what to wear, how long or how short their hair will be, if they will buy or bring their lunch. They are growing up, moving on and walking ever faster to the future God has set before them. And I am all at once, thrilled and heartbroken by the fact that we are forced to loosen our grip on the children He gifted us.
Most of us get to feel all of these conflicting feelings this week. And we're blessed beyond measure by that. This year, I have a new perspective. A year ago this month I first met with the Kyle's Kamp Committee to offer myself to the cause for Childhood Cancer. I sat at a table with Sandy Rupp who had lost her boy to brain cancer a mere six weeks before our meeting. I sat with Rob Hahne whose son was in his third year of battling leukemia. And I began a journey in understanding how very, very differently they must look at the first day of school.
It is not my aim to make us parents of healthy children wallow in guilt if we forget to appreciate every minute of every day. I try really hard not to come at this cause with anger toward those of us who are just living our lives and feeling our feelings as they have been given us. Our emotions as parents, no matter what small or large events are happening in the lives of our children, are valid. Our experience is ours alone. God gave us our own path and our own crosses to bear.
So today, I'm going to go ahead and have a really good cry like I always do. At the same time, I'm going to feel great relief and profound joy that I won't have to hear three squabbling boys tell completely different accounts of an argument, knowing that truth of the situation is always elusive - lost somewhere in the middle of the fray. I'm going to worry about whether or not they have friends in their classes. I'm going to wonder if they remembered that I told them to find the kid who is alone at lunch and to sit there. I'm going to hope that the spelling words won't come home until next week. I'm going to fret about the pressure that AP World History and GPAs and trying to shoot birdies on the golf course puts on a child who I am SURE was just reading The Very Hungry Caterpillar yesterday.
But in the midst of my focus on me and mine, today I will be mindful of parents who are breathing huge sighs of relief that their children are headed to school and not into radiation treatments this morning. I am rejoicing that Kyle H. who finished leukemia treatments just months ago is back at school and playing baseball this fall. I am thrilled with the fact that Tara S. finished her brain cancer treatments not long ago and gets to start school with a mouthful of new braces on her teeth. I am giggling at the photos of Little Miss Sabrina and her bouncing curls all dressed up for preschool since she was declared NED (no evidence of disease) in her last scans. These are great successes in the world of childhood cancer.
Unfortunately, this is not the experience of way too many others in our community. There is a group of high school freshman that will walk the halls of their new high school without one of their buddies. There will be an empty chair in a middle school classroom because the boy that should be there, wrapping his head around an algebraic equation, will be going to the clinic to see if he needs a blood transfusion today. Another boy will be spending what should be his first day of fifth grade in a hospital receiving chemotherapy to continue a fight he began in Kindergarten.
All moms and dads should be able to fight back tears as they watch the school bus drive away. All moms and dads should get the chance to fill out the mountain of forms that come home in the first day packet. All moms and dads should be wringing their hands in worry over how on God's green earth they are going to pay for college.
Our children need to grow up and move on and become bigger and stronger and smarter. Their families need them, their schools need them, the world needs them. This is the way it is supposed to be for all of us and tragically, it is not.
Growing older is a gift that not everyone gets. Unfortunately, I don't decide who gets that gift or how many days they will get it. What I will decide today is to remember that each new classroom, each new bus stop, each new notebook full of blank, white pages is a blessing I have not been promised. I do not know how many more first days of school my children will be given.
So I'll feel all of my feelings today. I'll let my tears spill. I'll smile at the silence. And then, I'll get on my knees and say thank you.
*September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. Please go to the Kyle's Kamp Facebook page to find out about some amazing events you can attend to support kids fighting cancer.*