And just like that, they’re off.
One minute you’re hauling them around on your hip, the next they’re tottering off to school getting bum-slapped with each bouncy step by backpacks bigger than they are.
Whether it’s the first day of kindergarten or you’re watching the excited but awkward gallop of a ten-year-old, the slow saunter of a brooding teenager, or the nervous stride of a college freshman making her way to orientation, you know what I mean. And you’ve asked the same question…
How did it happen so fast? For moms (and dads?) the first day of school can be fraught with so many emotions.
Panic – will we get to school on time? Did everyone brush their teeth, remember their lunches, and pack a change of clothes just in case…well, I don’t know, just in case!?
Relief – now I can finally get to that pile of laundry or dishes, that overdue shopping list, that report my boss has been asking for, or just that cup of coffee and five minutes of quiet.
Guilt – I shouldn’t feel so relieved to not be looking after little people today. I should have done more with them while they were home. I should work harder so we can afford private school. I should homeschool.
Pride – those are MY kids striding confidently into school with heads held high, ready and eager to learn new things, make new friends, and climb to new heights (on the jungle gym, that is).
Sadness – those are MY babies…they should be home in my arms, not falling in love with their teachers at school or chasing dreams beyond our snuggles.
Sigh. The first day of school – brutal.
And yet also, magical.
A whole new world is opening up for our children – a world of ideas and relationships, a world full of potential. What subject will capture my daughter’s imagination? She has amazing verbal skills, but in preschool she is most captivated by space – the vast stars, the shooting rocket ships, the possibility of meeting aliens.
As a well-educated white woman from North America with a successful extended family, I am positioned to give my daughter the world. Don’t get me wrong – we don’t have a lot of cash, own our own home, or have lucrative careers. But we have options.
And that’s the real difference.
For an illiterate darker-skinned woman from the Global South with an extended family trapped in poverty, giving her daughter an education beyond Grade 2 or 3 just isn’t an option. She can barely afford to feed all her children, let alone buy school uniforms, pay school fees, and provide school supplies to each of them. Besides, her daughter will soon be needed at home to fetch water from the distant stream, cook meals, wash clothes, and take care of younger siblings.
Our worlds couldn’t be farther apart.
And yet…I’m willing to bet our hearts are pretty much in the same place. On the first day of school, I’ll bet that woman half-way across the world is feeling…
Panic – will my kids have enough to eat today? Will their walk to school be safe? Will their shoes stay intact for the journey?
Relief – at least I had enough to send the two older boys to school, even if the three younger girls had to stay home. I’m glad they’re here to help; I couldn’t do this on my own.
Guilt – my daughters are so smart, I should be able to give them the chance to learn. I should be able to feed them more than one meal a day. I should be able to buy them new clothes when the old ones wear out.
Pride – those are MY boys striding confidently toward school with heads held high, ready and eager to learn new things, make new friends, and gain a future beyond our small village.
Sadness – these are MY girls…working so hard at home, giving up their dreams for their brothers, preparing for a future no different from their present.
This other mama feels it all – panic, relief, guilt, pride, sadness. She loves her babies with a fierce love. She is doing the absolute best she can with the little she’s been given. But she doesn’t have options.
And that’s the rub.
Through no fault of her own – because she was born into poverty – it doesn’t matter how hard she works or how hard she wishes. She can’t change her circumstances out of thin air. She can’t create options out of nothing.
And I’m not okay with that. It’s not fair that I am in a better position simply through the accident of birth. Her daughters are no less valuable than my daughter, no less worthy of shooting for the stars.
So, this year, on the first day of school, let’s take a stand with mothers who need a helping hand, who need someone to walk alongside them. Let’s leverage our privilege to share our advantage and give every mom the opportunity to send ALL her children to school.
Originally from the United States, Eryn grew up in The Gambia and Senegal, and as an adult, made her home in Canada. A student of culture and the Bible by education, copywriter by trade, and preacher by passion Eryn worked for FH Canada for four and half years before moving to South Africa with her husband and three-year-old daughter. She now spends her days writing, housewife-ing, mothering, and neighbouring. Check out her website Writing for a Change.