The Motherly Rituals of Back-to-School


September 4, 2014.

First day of school. There is silence in the house. Only the click of the old clock announcing time at every second. Time. Children make it seem so frugal.

I am a mother. The relentless pursuit of paying attention, doing chores oriented toward my children’s livelihood, the pettiness of the routine day in and day out should make this space of silence precious. Yet, it is the contrary. It is in the chaos of everyone’s opinions and needs crashing together where the meaning of life resides. The meaning of my life. (Does life have meaning?) I am only this moment, alone, silent. I can still taste the mayhem of this morning and the preparations that the first day of school entails. Choosing the right outfit. All those hours in the store with the list of supplies, making sure we have the right colors, the right amount, the right size. The lunchboxes. The snacks. Water-bottles packed. Smiles. Grumpiness. Precious grumpiness that lets me know they are alive; they are their own person. They do not belong to me. We are just crossing paths. I am just here to lend them a hand in finding the right direction for who they are and what it is they are supposed to be doing. Is this what I am supposed to be doing?

First day of school and some of the mothers who were dropping off their Kindergarten children were crying. Hysteria. All our children are leaving us, someday! It is the way of our kind. I did it without looking back. Why do we hold so tight to the next generation? Why does it have to be so painful? Pain. Just energy turned into a stab in the throat, in the stomach, in the diaphragm. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe yet I have my space of silence. Silence. How much we want it when we don’t have it, and how it hurts our ears when there is nothing there. Nothing. Silence.

First day of school and there are many mothers relieved that they can now go to work without worrying what is going to happen with their children today, with what they are going to eat if they have the possibility of eating anything. They won’t have time to cry. Maybe just a little on the way to the office, while sitting in traffic, while feeling some kind of balance between the void and the respite. Today children will have something to focus on, someone semi-prepared to keep them occupied; they will have a meal that we don’t have to buy, or cook, or pack.

First day of school and it is the end of summer. The end of fireflies. The end of camping and staying out at night, snuggling, telling stories, eating s’mores. The apocalyptic end of the freedom that summer entails for childhood. No more trips to the amusement park or the water park, or just the park. I particularly dislike summer. It is too hot. With fall comes the tilted sunlight that makes everything golden yellow. Fall changes the air, making it crispy like juicy apples. Fall brings Halloween, and candies, and costumes, and turkey. Fall fulfills us with promises of times to be shared, of memories printed in photographs. Fall brings balance between the space of silence and the little witches walking around town filling our hearts.

My daughter said today that she only likes the first day of class, and the last. I could not agree more.

Edna M. Rodriguez-Plate lives in upstate New York with her husband and their two daughters. She enjoys teaching at Hamilton College, watching films, and playing with her daughters. She is originally from Puerto Rico, and currently undergoing training in Qi Gong.