The First Day of School

On the night before the first day of school, at the end of every summer and at the dawning of every new grade level, I lay in bed awake and petrified. When the excitement from shopping for back-to-school sweaters and Trapper Keepers melted away with the remaining days of August, one thought still scorched my mind:

What if I don’t know anything?

As if worrying about when to get off the bus, where to go if they moved my classroom overnight, who to play with at recess, what to do with my new sweater if I got too hot, or how to discreetly ask to go to the bathroom wasn’t enough, what horrified me the most was the possibility of sitting at my desk completely dumbfounded by what the teacher was asking me and being told to leave after failing to answer the question correctly.

After what seemed like hours of tormented tossing and turning, I eventually called out for my mom.

“Don’t worry, honey,” she would say while stroking away the sweat-soaked strands of hair from my forehead, “They always spend the first two weeks reviewing what you learned last year.”

My mom had no more insight into the teacher’s lesson plan than the trays in the cafeteria, but year after year her few simple words soothed away my worries. I was always asleep within minutes of hearing them. And the next afternoon, after successfully surviving the first day, we celebrated by sharing a chocolate-marshmallow-peanut sundae at the local Ben Franklin’s.

It’s been years since my last first day of school, but like most of my mom’s counsel, I’m struck by how much it can relate to parenting.

For instance, I have the incredible fortune of having a sister-in-law, Amy, whose baby, our beautiful niece Hollyn, is a few months older than Rainey. Because Amy has always been a bit further down the road of motherhood, she has lent me a ton of useful perspective and tested advice.

When I was newly pregnant and riddled with morning sickness and questions, she sent me some Tums and a week-by-week guide to pregnancy. Right after I delivered Rainey, when I had sore nipples and a butt that felt like it was on fire, she FedEx-ed me soothing gel discs and a waffle cushion. And whenever she comes across a helpful parenting article, a quick and easy recipe, or coupons for a good deal on diapers, she doesn’t hesitate to send them my way.

Her appetite for discussing motherhood and babies is as insatiable as mine. And whenever I need a pep talk or a place to vent, she’s the first one I call.

I love listening to Amy talk about life with Hollyn; it gives me a sneak peek at what’s in store for Rainey and me. But to be honest, sometimes it petrifies me.

Like when Hollyn first started pulling herself up in her crib. I remember Amy talking about what a hard time she was having teaching Hollyn how to bend her knees so she could lay down without cracking her head open like a melon. Or when Hollyn got her first cold and listening to Amy describe how Hollyn clung to her like a dryer sheet for days.

Whenever Amy shares these challenging situations with me, I sit on the other end of the phone doing my best to be a sympathetic and compassionate listener, but inside I hear the little schoolgirl asking, “What if I don’t know what to do when Rainey starts doing that?”

But with the help of my mom’s timeless words of wisdom and the privilege of having Amy’s friendship and experience as my guide, one of the best things I’ve discovered about motherhood is that somehow, amazingly, every day as a parent prepares you for the next.

So, when I’m tempted to sweat the next grade level of raising Rainey – the inevitable tantrums and toilet-training, embarrassing moments in public places, lice checks, driving lessons, first dates and heartbreaks – there’s a great chance I’ll already have whatever I need to get through it to be the kind of mom Rainey needs at the time.

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