Back to School

“Back to school!” Now there is a phrase destined to strike the heart of any self-respecting micro-managing mother with anticipation and terror—anticipation because the micro-manager is faster than a speeding bullet, stronger than a freight train, and, well, really good at planning for any eventuality—terror because school is not her jurisdiction so none of that stuff matters. I’m not really a micro-manager, not even a helicopter mom, but I do confess to having control issues. And back-to-school season has been known to bring out the “best” in me.

I suspect that I am like most moms in that I want the best for my children, while my spidey senses point to all the dangers our girls might maybe, possibly, (un)likely, (im)probably encounter. In my case, it surely didn’t help that I could remember my own, not so pleasant, first day of school. I’d been a mama’s baby from birth, so when my unfeeling mama abandoned me at the classroom door, I quickly sank into the depths of despair. And when my swollen eyes met those of the enormous, confident classmate placed next to me, and she started making faces at me, I was a goner. Come to think of it, I suffered similarly when my mama left me—again—at TWU’s doorstep, thirteen years later. But no one made faces then, and within a few months I stopped crying myself to sleep.

I guess I automatically assumed that my girls would react to the start of school in much the same way I had, so I braced for it. After all, there is so much that is new and unknowable each year one heads back to the classroom: teachers (our neighborhood classified teachers as either “name brand” or “no name brand”), classmates, assignments, projects, and tests. On a positive note, there is also the stuff one can control, and shop for, like new outfits and school supplies! Shopping day was always a marvelous mother daughter date.

Number One daughter appeared to her sensitive and insecure mother to have some sensitivity and insecurity issues, which would clearly require said mother to be very sensitive and alert in order to avoid an imminent breakdown on the part of the child. Sure enough, our daughter soon complained of the bossiness of one of her classmates. Oh no! But when I diplomatically mentioned this cause for concern to her teacher, I was informed that my daughter was holding her own just fine. (My face reddens just remembering that I was the kind of mother to say anything. Who did I think I was?) This same sensitive, insecure child informed me (the mama’s baby turned baby’s mama), after only a day or two of school, that I need not walk her to school anymore. She could go by herself, thank you very much! As the years passed, daughter number one proved to be so enthusiastic about school that she was likely to do her homework twice just to improve the appearance of her first draft.

Had I learned my lesson? Nooooo. The time came for daughter number two to begin school. But this child was of a very different temperament. While the first one had seemed ultra-sensitive, like her mother, this one was stubborn and strong-willed, like her mother. This one would give those teachers a run for their money. Soon and very soon, we’d be hearing from them about behavioral difficulties and modification alternatives. So I waited until the suspense was killing me and then…I asked. Apparently, our daughter was, if anything, too quiet. She saved her tantrums for the home front. (Unsuspecting teachers frequently expressed a wish to take her home with them.) Besides endearing herself to the school staff, she used her strong-will to stand up for good instead of evil under peer pressure.

With two daughters down and one to go, I finally understood that all our back to school woes were about to be realized with daughter number three. Here, at last, was the entitled baby of the family, the child who would demand her rights and buck responsibility, making her way by her sweet smile, her charming sense of humour, and the seat of her pants. And I was wrong again. Her sweet smile and sense of humour didn’t hurt, but she also took responsibility for her inter (and extra) curricular activities and assignments, so much so that she received frequent calls from fellow classmates wanting to know what the homework was and when it was due. They knew she knew. She was also called upon on occasion to help a friend with organizational tasks, not always of an academic orientation. This is not to say she was a tidy child. But she loved to organize things.

When all the “back-to-schools” were said and done, it became clear that whoever said, “Ninety-nine percent of what we fear doesn’t materialize,” was right. It is natural to feel some apprehension when encountering the unknowable. And there is a concentrated unknowable at the beginning of a new school year, before the sheer number of days going by turn it into a daily routine, like juice concentrate before the water dilutes it. We certainly faced both good and bad in our family’s academic experience. And I certainly worried too much either way, maybe even more during the good than the bad. One can move forward to solve an existing problem, but one worries long and hard about nothing when waiting for a non-existent problem to appear.

The good thing about the bad thing about my anxiety is that it brought me to my knees. God showed me, despite my own inclinations, that He is the One in control. I think He laughed each time I finally realized that He’d kept an expected calamity at bay. But when He did allow difficulty, He was also there to guide and give His oh so special brand of peace every step of the way. Back-to-school is a time of anticipation and, I think, of at least a smidgeon of fear for even the most intrepid. But aren’t those times the best kind of times to watch our Heavenly Father at work and to learn to look upward instead of inward?!

Judy Funk (’84) and her husband Jeremy (’85) live in Winnipeg, MB and work at maintaining regular contact with their three adult daughters and families who live in France, BC, and ON.