On the night before the first day of school, emotions are big. The anticipation and excitement of tomorrow is palpable, sometimes translating into tension, fear, and sadness. And more often than not, a wide range of all of these big emotions spill over, and that can feel overwhelming, lead to a restless night of sleep and timid steps tomorrow morning. For the kids and for this mama.
And well, fear. It’s known for stealing joy, so we do what we can to beat it to the punch.
We load up into the car and drive to our school. That precious building that holds our future inside its doors. Nothing about the structure in and of itself is necessarily precious, but for five days a week, it houses the ones that have our hearts. When they enter the doors, they step into new identities. Their role, not as a son or a daughter, but as a learner, a peer and a ground-shaker.
They navigate the hallways alone. They are expected to initiate and maintain relationships. They’re responsible to rise to new challenges, follow rules of order, extend empathy and selflessness. They hear things they’ve never heard before. Their eyes are opened to academic realities that shape and form their understanding of their universe, their world, their country and their city.
They see faces unlike their own. Faces of children who live close by but whose lives are radically different than their own, some better and some worse. They sit down next to someone who has a different color of skin or a different religion or whose parents are politically different from their own parents. And they don’t ask about those differences or scoff at them. They embrace this new and different person not as someone who is different, but as someone who is the same. A classmate, someone with whom they now share this commonality of a classroom where they’ll spend the next nine months. These friendships of differences will cause them to embrace people unlike themselves. Will teach them about grace and protection.
They’ll teach them that really, all of us are more alike than unalike.
And their teachers. These incredible people who pour themselves out to shape and encourage our future generation. These men and women who have chosen careers of leading and hand-holding. Their patience and stamina spent fully on these children who are not their own, but who become theirs. And then as they become attached to these precious souls sitting around their classrooms, they’re suddenly charged with handing them back and up and on. Their cycle of welcoming, receiving, advocating and releasing is a never-ending pull on their hearts and their sanity.
And on that night before school, we’re all a bit frazzled about the unknowns coming tomorrow.
So we pile in the car. We point it towards our school. And we step onto the grounds of the campus to kneel down and pray. We take selfies. We run and play tag. We celebrate the milestone of the beginning of this new year. We laugh and write with chalk. And this year, we’ll check out our brand new playground around the back.
Then we huddle up together, the five of us. And each person shares their individual hopes for this coming year. We listen to the hopes of our children as their minds comprehend another school year and the growth that awaits.
“I hope other kids are nice. I hope that I can be a good friend. I hope my teacher likes me. I hope I don’t get lost. I hope I feel smart.”
And we sit. And we pray. We ask God to take our hopes of uncertainty and apply His guiding hand. We lay it all down and acknowledge that as a mom and a dad, we really don’t control much of any of what’s going to happen inside these walls.
We pray for true friendships. We pray against hate.
We speak outloud each of the names of the children who will sit in the same classroom. We pray for meaningful friendship and kindness to dwell. We ask for strength and rest for our new teacher.
We pray against fears. Against sadness. Against distractions and dangers and all of the things that as parents, we know are a threat to our children as they walk out into the world. We ask God to protect this campus as our precious children walk inside the doors. As they are taught and encouraged and guarded by these other adults who have chosen this sacred work. We ask God to show us ways to encourage them and love them well over the course of the school year. To nudge us at specific times when they need a voice of appreciation and gratitude.
And then, as the sun is setting, we leave. And we’re less frazzled. We’re less worried. Emotions feel less “big”. Because we’ve taken our fears and laid them down. With the goal of not picking them back up again. And tomorrow won’t be our first day back at school. Because we’ve already gone ahead. We’ve already gone back.