Motherhood & Words

Both girls are back in school this week. Stella woke up at 6 a.m. yesterday, ready to dash out the door and wait for the bus. “I’ve tried to go back to sleep,” she whispered, “but I can’t.”

“That’s okay,” I said. “You can get ready.”

I’ve never seen her brush her hair and teeth so fast. And then she was dressed, had eaten breakfast and triple-checked her backpack. Photos were taken and more photos were taken until finally she rolled her eyes and said, “Okay, mom. Okay, okay.” And then she was off, running to the bus stop, thrilled to be, as she had mentioned the day before, an “official first grader.”

Zoë’s transition was a little more challenging. As I drove her to preschool, she started to cry. “Don’t want to go to school,” she wailed. “I stay home. I tired. I take a nappy.” Poor kid. She thought I’d let her stay home if she slept all day.

Then she said, “I want Stella go to school wit me.” And every time we saw a school bus, she said, “Stella in there?” That killed me.

I tried to point out the big diggers at a construction site. I tried to tell her how excited her school friends and teachers would be to see her again. None of it worked. I had to pry her from my body and hand her off to her teachers when we got to school. The last thing I saw was her red, tear-stained face over the shoulder of one of her teachers. I felt sick as I drove to the coffee shop.

The truth is that I’m thrilled to have longer stretches of time to work. I love having a set schedule, knowing exactly how many hours a week I can prepare my classes and write. I love having time to run during the day a few times a week. And I know Zoë will adjust. This morning was already smoother (though she still offered to stay home and nap). She said, “No, I not go to school. I just stay here with you.”

“But I have to go to work, sweetie.”

She shook her head. “No, you not go to work.”

“Mommy always comes back for you,” I said, reminding her of the Hap Palmer song she loves.

“Just like Baby Songs,” she said.

“Just like that,” I agreed.

And instead of tears when I dropped her off, she just buried her face in my shoulder and told me she was shy.

“That’s okay, sweetie. You’ll feel like playing soon.”

She was probably zooming down the slide a few minutes after I drove away, so I shouldn’t feel so melancholy. And I know this heaviness is about more than leaving a sad daughter at daycare; it’s about the way the start of the school year marks the end of summer, the passing of another year. In a minute, Zoë will be rolling her eyes at me and running to the bus behind Stella, and I can’t even imagine what Stella will be doing. And I’ll probably have more writing time than I ever wanted. I should be careful what I wish for.

How is the transition back to school for those of you who have little ones?

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I have been teaching creative writing for almost twenty years. Reading about other women’s lives and experiences has expanded my world. To be able to walk in someone else’s shoes, whether it’s for a moment or an hour or a few days, is an incredible gift, providing me with insight into the human experience. It takes courage to write your truths, especially if it doesn’t seem as though anyone cares, as though anyone is listening. Let me tell you: your stories matter, I’m listening, and I’m here to help you find the heart of those truths, to get them down on the page, to craft them, and to send them out into the world. Together, we will change the world, one story at a time.


  1. Cecilia on August 31, 2010 at 1:01 pm

    Hi Kate! I *totally* hear you on this…so many times I just keep wanting more free time to myself, not appreciating what it is like to have my child INSIST on being with me. And then one day we'll try to get them on the phone and they'll be like, "What do you want now, ma?" 🙁

    I love back to school! It's the end of the school year that kills me. I cried my eyes out last June on the final day of school and that reality is at bay for another 10 months…

    My little guy just started gr. 1 too.

    Hang in there!

    PS I had a lovely time meeting up with Sarah this summer – I think she mentioned it to you 🙂

  2. Amber on August 31, 2010 at 2:04 pm

    School starts for us next week. I'm feeling a little ragged these last couple weeks of summer and I'm looking forward to being refreshed, but the summer has been good. The kids play so well together. We are going to miss Alex, also going into 1st grade. But I'm ready. So are Alex and Amy…assuming we can transistion that bedtime/waketime back to something suitable…

  3. Anjali on August 31, 2010 at 4:25 pm

    My older two kids are in their second week of school (3rd and 1st) but my baby, who is 2.5 years, starts preschool next week.

    It's her first time, so I fear it's going to be a rocky start for her…

  4. Mary on September 1, 2010 at 1:07 am

    I remember well those tricky preschool drop-offs! It's been a long and overpacked summer so I'm craving the start of school — tomorrow for my 7th grader, and next week for the 4th grader and kindergartner. I know that the house will seem too empty the second they are gone and I only hope that I can use the time wisely on all the projects that await.

  5. Andrea on September 1, 2010 at 7:38 am

    Awww…so sweet and heart-wrenching. One day last year I carried a reluctant Z to the chair in the farthest corner of the preschool classroom and turned and RAN out of the school as fast as I could…I think I got the Mother of the Year award for that stellar moment.

    Thank heavens for public schools and big yellow buses that you can just bundle the kiddos into! We've only had two days of Kindergarten so far, so we'll see how it goes, but I'm trying to not create a self-fulfilling prophesy that at least one of my kinder will become very well acquainted with the principal.

  6. cath c on September 1, 2010 at 3:19 pm

    wonderful for stella, and zoe will get the hang of it.

    i had a back to school mtg for the sophomore in hs, joining the competive jazz choir the other night; and today was a mayhem orientation to middle school with my 6th grade aspergerian, who handled it well. 3 scheduling changes and corrections are needed before classes start on tues! longest i've ever spent in a guidance counselor's office, including when i was in school.

    toots's preschool mtg is tomorrow, and she'll age intot he 2.5yo preschool class in oct, so while the boys are outa here next week, i have another month to go before i'll have tues and thurs mornings to myself.

    i hear you on the longing for summer to not end, but i am glad of it this year.

  7. Sarah on September 1, 2010 at 7:58 pm

    Oh, I feel this! Lovely writing, Kate. Wishing the best to all of you!

  8. Rachel on September 2, 2010 at 10:27 am

    I dropped off Eddie, not-quite-yet 2, at school on Tuesday and he waltzed right in and began playing in the kitchen area. I stood there for a while waiting for him to realize he missed me. He didn't. So I went to a coffee shop and *tried* to work. After we went home for rest of the day he reminded me, "Mama bye bye!"

    Of course I'm glad he didn't fuss, but I still felt a little bit heartbroken anyway.

  9. Laura G. O'Brien on September 3, 2010 at 12:39 am

    Kate: Yes, yes, back to school. My week included my toddler jumping on the baby's swing and baby falling to the tile floor (thankfully the baby's fine) plus backing into a parked car in the grocery store parking lot. I was so frazzled that at preschool orientation tonight I made the horrid mistake of asking a woman when she was due (she wasn't!!)

    The real question is: did you finish your book???

  10. kate hopper on September 7, 2010 at 10:09 am

    Cecilia and Sarah, I wish I could have met you both in person! Some day?

    Anjali, I hope pre-school goes okay this week!

    Amber and Mary, enjoy the extra time.

    Andrea, I hope you do not become well acquainted with the principal's office this year (or any year).

    Cath, just a month to go!

    Rachel, I love that Eddie was dashing off, but I know what you mean. It's heartbreaking.

    Laura, I'm so glad the baby is okay. (See latest post re: the book. Thank you for asking about it.)