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The bravery and optimism of back-to-school

Posted by Dr. Claire McCarthy  August 30, 2013 07:34 AM

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liam school.jpgMy youngest two started school this week, and as usual, my kids had something to teach me.

Even though fall is my favorite time of year, the time right around the start of school is not. There's all that shopping, which is not only expensive (why is it we can never find last year's school scissors until we buy a new pair?) but stressful as we try to keep track of supply lists and figure out what fits and what doesn't (why do feet have to grow so fast?). There's the drama of The Countdown--not to mention the drama of The End of Summer and my kids' desire to cram everything in they wanted to do before school starts, and to stay up late as often as possible (since soon they will be on the school bedtime). As if that weren't enough, there are all the forms to fill out and the activities to sign up for and schedule. 

They get excited; I get stressed and cranky.

This year, as I watched them, I thought: what's the big deal? I mean, it's 7th grade and 2nd grade. It's not like they are starting new schools. It's the same old people, the same old work except a little bit harder. 

tash school.jpg
My husband and I are a bit jaded. If you count first days of preschool, this is our 20th consecutive year of back-to-school. That's a lot. It's hard to generate excitement after 20 years.

But there was plenty of excitement at our house on the first day. They bounced out of bed and dressed in favorite clothes: Tash in her special lace dress (my other daughters would have looked silly going to school in lace, but Tash can pull anything off), Liam in a hand-me-down faded shirt that he was very proud of (I think he thought it was fancy because it had a collar). They ate their breakfast and packed up their backpacks, each ready ten minutes before they had to leave the house.

They were a bit scared along with being excited, scared of the new teachers and the new material (Tash had heard that 7th grade was much harder than 6th). Friends had been reshuffled into different classes, meaning that there was social navigation ahead; they were worried about that. And, I reminded myself, at their age the beginning of a school year is just plain old intimidating no matter what your parents or teachers say. 

Watching them, it was clear that they were full of a wonderful mixture of bravery and optimism. They didn't know what the year would hold, but they were ready to jump in and see.

That's when I started to feel a bit sheepish--and a bit jealous.

We grownups don't have these made-for-us beginnings every year. We occasionally change jobs, we take vacations, things happen, it's not like life is always the same--but that's not the same as getting the clean slate and possibilities that back-to-school brings. We also don't get regularly pushed out of our comfort zone the way our children do every year.

We aren't regularly forced to find bravery and optimism. Which means, since both are hard, that most of us end up with nowhere near enough of either.

I dropped Tash off at the middle school and watched her stride away, all legs and confidence--and then my husband and I walked Liam to his school where he gave us hugs and ran to join his friends, not looking back. 

And I thought: every day offers a new possibility. Maybe I'll follow their example and find the bravery and optimism to move out of my comfort zone and try something different. Hey, if my 12-year-old and 7-year-old can do it, I can too. 

Is there something you'd like me to write about? Leave me a message on my Facebook page--and "like" the page for links to all my MD Mama blogs as well as my blogs on Thriving and Huffington Post. 

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About MD Mama

Claire McCarthy, M.D., is a pediatrician and Medical Communications Editor at Boston Children's Hospital . An assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and a senior editor for Harvard More »

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