It is time for the kids to go back to school.
For the last three years, in late August, I’ve written with nostalgia and grief about the passing of their youth, with trepidation about what they will learn on the playground, with empathy about the fear of a new school and new teachers and new friends, and with heartbreak about the inevitability of it all.
This is not that kind of post.
This year, when I say it is time for the kids to go back to school, I mean it is time for the kids to go back to school, as in, the joy of summer is all used up. As in, either they leave for school, or my sanity is going to leave me. I’m not sure which will happen first. It could be a photo finish.
What is the difference between this year and the last three years?
This year, for the first time, I was home with them all summer long for three days a week. Not five. Just three. And I had a babysitter for some of that time. (I can hear some of you who stay home full-time with your kids rolling your eyes at me. I can actually hear the eyeballs rolling in your heads. And I don’t blame you.) Even so, now I know: being solely sorrowful about the return to school is the luxury of the full-time employed and those with a peculiar penchant for chaos and mess and sibling bickering. This year, I am here to tell you, I want them to go back to school but, even more importantly, they need to go back to school.
They don’t think they need to go back to school.
They think it would be best for them if summer lasted forever.
An older brother can only spend so many days playing with his younger sister before he starts to think of her as a nag and a tag-along. We surpassed that day on July 17.
A little sister can only spend so many days playing with her older brother before she starts to feel small and belittled and desperate for someone who will play with dolls instead of wrestling with her. We surpassed that day on July 18.
And a tweenage boy can only spend so many days isolating with headphones, trying to become a video star on music.ly, and questioning every summertime chore and boundary before both he and his dad are wishing college wasn’t so far away. We surpassed that day about 48 hours after school let out in May.
And, yes, I know all about the things we should be doing to limit their languishing. They’ve gone to camps and lessons and practices. They’ve had daily chores and daily errands. We’ve shooed them out of the house and into the sunlight for hours at a time. They’ve faced into boredom and found creativity in the form of coloring and painting and building and imaginary play. I’ve chatted with them until everyone is blue in the face.
And still, they are restless with youthful energy.
And still, I’m pretty sure I can see unused gray matter leaking out of their ears.
And still, underneath their anxiety, they secretly long for the next new school experience.
Previously, I thought home is where my kids are meant to be and the place where they thrive best. But I’m changing my tune. Though they are still young, they are already wanting more from life than I can provide. The world is truly their oyster; I’m just that little knife-thing they will use to get the oyster open. Of course, having said all that, on the first day of school I’m still going to be a little weepy, because most of the time I sort of like being the little knife-thing.
This isn’t most of the time. This is the end of summer, and I’m more aware than ever that home isn’t a destination; it’s a respite. A rest stop. A place to recharge so they can get back out into the world, to explore, to learn, to grow, to become. And no one needs to hang out at a rest stop for three months. That is insane. The toilets are dirty.
So, yes, it is time for my kids to go back to school.
And this part-time stay-at-home dad is not ashamed to admit it.
In his debut novel, Kelly weaves a page-turning, plot-twisting tale that explores the spiritual depths of identity and relationships, amidst themes of healing, grace, faith, forgiveness, and freedom.
Connect with Kelly
Dr. Kelly Flanagan is a psychologist, author, consultant, and speaker who enjoys walking with people through the three essentials of a truly satisfying life: worthiness, belonging, and purpose. His blog writings have been featured in Reader’s Digest, The Huffington Post, The 5 Love Languages, and the TODAY Show. Kelly is the author of Loveable and True Companions.