jen groeber: mama art

4 kids in 3 years: reflections on motherhood, art and life.

Last First Day of School

Today was the first day of school. My youngest is starting kindergarten and so it’s technically the last first day of school.

You may not know this about me, but I can get pretty sentimental about the passage of time and my kids. Shocker considering the last twelve verklempt blog posts, I know. And so I’ve been preparing for this day for months.

Last night I laid out their new outfits, made sure their new shoes actually fit, dug out their backpacks from last year. Our school is a “no outside food” kind of place for allergies and such (also, no outside school supplies because apparently the crayons that I would upcycle from crayon scraps aren’t good enough for kindergarten), so my preparations were more therapeutic than actual.

first day of school picture

Dressed for the first day
September 2015

And so this morning my youngest stumbled into my bathroom at 6:45 am, the hour of the morning I called “the middle of the night” just one short week ago. And from minute one, they all pretty much joined the go-team. I mean, my youngest got undressed herself, threw her pajamas all over her bedroom herself and then put on her shirt, tutu, leggings and lace-trimmed socks all by herself. And just yesterday she couldn’t put on swim bottoms.

Only my oldest showed any signs of first-day-of-school regret.

“I don’t know why they all get so excited about their new clothes,” he said, as I laid out entirely old clothes from last year for him.

“It’s the first day! It’s a new beginning! It’s exciting!” I replied in a totally fake-happy manic voice.

“I’m like you, mom. Endings make me sad. I only really care about my new shoes.”

“Oh, um. You need endings to have new beginnings? Great shoes!” I chirped and hustled out of the room.

On the porch I took the requisite first day of school pictures. And after about fifty pics I realized that they’d all pretty much left me already. They were physically still with me, sure, but their eyes said “I want to have time to paint the nameplate for over my cubby.” The school day was on.

silly first day pic

Ready for school
August 2015

On the way to school the kids told me about one of their teachers, a gentleman who, according to my oldest son, has been teaching at the school for twenty-seven years. He’s known, among other things, for sending a birthday card to every single student he’s ever had. Forever. Like even when you’re in college, you still get a card. He’s that kind of organized. And in his classroom there are at least 50 jars of sand from every beach you can imagine in the world, including a jar of purple sand from a little favorite beach of ours in Maine.

My son said the tradition began because the teacher had grown up in the midwest and he’d never been to the ocean until he took a class trip when he was thirteen. It seemed a bizarrely fitting story for first days.

And not to bore you with details (if I haven’t already), but my eight-year-old left my side shortly after we entered the building, my six-year-old daughter followed right behind him, my six-year-old son gripped my hand, and my newly-minted kindergartner? Boom. She ran away from me like I was a kidnapper. I popped my head in each classroom after dropping off the six-year-old son to the sand-filled classroom and then headed over to kindergarten.

writing her name in yellow

At the table writing
September 2015

She was at a table writing her name on the sign-in sheet in yellow marker. I wanted to tell her that yellow wasn’t a good choice, because it didn’t show up that well on the white. I wanted to remind her that gluten gives her an upset stomach but that she can choose to have whichever snack she wanted. I wanted to remind her to listen to her teacher and say please and thank you and to make as many new friends as she could. She looked up when she sensed me standing there, suffered one last photo, and then waved good-bye before turning her back.

I said nothing. She was ready.

There was nothing for me to do but head back out to the minivan. And I didn’t shed a tear (although it was touch-and-go back in the classroom until I noticed the yellow marker choice.) I flipped on the radio for a gris-gris song, something that would take me out the long driveway, something that would explain the meaning of life. And the song choice playing made this lapsed-Lutheran, heathen white girl want to raise her arms in the air, right out of the minivan moonroof, and yell PRAISE JESUS!

I’m gonna need someone to help me
I’m gonna need somebody’s hand
I’m gonna need someone to hold me down
I’m gonna need someone to care
I’m gonna writhe and shake my body
I’ll start pulling out my hair
I’m going to cover myself with the ashes of you and nobody’s gonna give a damn

(Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats, SOB. Check it out, if you haven’t already and you’re welcome.)

It sounds like a horrible choice, actually, when you just read the words, but the hand-clapping, foot-stomping, gut-wrenching crooning is a sort of celebration of whatever’s landing in your lap that day, even if it’s sort of lousy, and I needed a little bit of celebratin’.

After the song finished I called my mom to ask about our first days. “Do you remember our first days?” I asked.

“Yes, I have a picture right here in a collage you made me of you girls lined up for your first day,” she replied.

“Did it make you sad?” I continued, in search of the empathetic connection, the nod to my lamenting.

“Nope. I just wanted to sit down, relax and have a cup of coffee.” Huh.

I drove to the nearest beach, took off my shoes and walked on the brown-white sand. I watched the sandpipers run down into the surf and out again, pecking at whatever they could grab before the waves lapped at their feet, staying just outside the reach of the water. I picked up a small clam that had washed up on the beach and threw it back out into the surf as far as I could so that it could thrive.

And then the metaphors all sort of dissipated. Enough with the metaphors.

I began to see my day and the things I would do. Then my week and the things I hoped to accomplish, then my month, and so on.

As I told my son, I guess you need new beginnings for sentimental endings and sentimental endings for new beginnings. And now it’s time for the next new beginning. Take us out Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats. (Click the link. I swear it’ll make you feel good.)

kids walking to car

Brimming with first day tales
September 2015

9 comments on “Last First Day of School

  1. lafriday
    September 10, 2015

    Oh, my heart aches for you and those bittersweet endings, and rejoices for ALL of your beginnings. Just lovely, Jen.

    • jgroeber
      September 10, 2015

      Oh, thank you. Yes, bittersweet is the perfect word. “More sweet than bitter” in the words of Big Head Todd and the Monsters. Now that’s a song that would have been nice to hear on the exit drive.
      Thanks so much for the comment.

  2. bumbismom
    September 10, 2015

    Loved reading this!

    • jgroeber
      September 16, 2015

      So glad you could relate. It’s an amazing thing, transition. It’s one of those things that one of my sons is terrible at, transitioning from one thing to the next. And it makes me CRAZY. But maybe I’m realizing that I may not be such a transition-genius either. (There could be a blog post in that. Thank you for the inspiration!)

  3. Stacy di Anna
    September 13, 2015

    All babies in school – such a milestone! Congratulations and enjoy! I still find that, every summer, I long for the quiet of all kids in school then miss them immediately to the point of tears! Last year I wrote a post with the exact same title (Older Son’s first day of senior year). Would love to share it with you and I’ve been wanting to connect with you offline for some writing advice. If you have a moment, my email is


    • jgroeber
      September 16, 2015

      That’s it exactly! “I miss you so much, can you go outside and play now?”
      Thanks so much for reading and commenting. It feels better to know we’re not alone is this. I’m off to send you a quick e-mail right now.

  4. plainspokenmama
    September 15, 2015

    I loved this! The transition from summer to school is bittersweet in the best sense of the word. I keep my summer memories handy via photos and whenever I’m feeling more bitter than sweet, I look at them and think about how much fun we will have next summer. Plus, now you have a little more time to be creative.

    • jgroeber
      September 16, 2015

      Ah, such sage words of advice. Flipping through those old photos. I love that the physicality of those images gives meaning to the time that just seems to fly by. Planning for next year is pretty clever, too. Thank you for that.
      (I knew there was a reason I was writing this all down for the interweb! So intelligent people could help me out. 🙂 )

  5. Dawn Quyle Landau
    September 21, 2015

    And so it begins… they move slowly in new directions and you move toward new options. It’s a slow dance, not a bump and grind. (there some more metaphors, you’re welcome). There’s time to email new friends, share your day, sit with coffee, go for walks on the beach (which seem ideal for feeling melancholy and wistful), writing… oh, yeah, writing. You can do that now. When you want. Just message me whenever you need more inspiration or ideas! I’m rooting for you, darlin’! xox

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