The first day back to school: I didn’t even take pictures

It was the first week back to school and I could hear the distress in her voice.

“I’m in a horrible place,” says a mom, “I just came down from that spiritual high I told you I was enjoying. I don’t know where my positive, loving, go-with-the-flow attitude went.”

I learn when I listen to this friend. She has an amazing ability for self-reflection and a willingness to be with her vulnerability. I get to practice attentive listening while witnessing frailties of life.

“My sons just left for school for their first day. I was focused on their exterior, comparing myself and them to other parents who put adorable back-to-school pictures of their kids on Facebook.

Mine weren’t wearing cute outfits. My youngest was wearing a too-small shirt with a stain on it. He pulled it out of a pile I had set aside to take to Goodwill. When I called attention to it, he wouldn’t change.

And we didn’t get new lunch boxes. They carried their old, dingy ones.

The boys seemed charged with negative feelings: those uncertain, uncomfortable ones. They didn’t even want their picture taken.

And that birthday party this weekend we have planned for our oldest. Well, I printed last-minute SpongeBob SquarePants invitations, which he loved and I hated. I kept it to myself, though.”

The mom sighs and states, “I feel like a failure on many fronts right now.”

That was it. 

I sit quietly with her story and her feelings. I understand and remember my own experiences.

After awhile, she asks if I have any thoughts. 

I do.  

First, the photos.

I think about the pictures I post on Facebook and admit to her that I only post certain photos. I try to look good. I mean it—the angle and smiles are not optional. And, I'm guilty of posting pictures on social media that make you think everything's hunky-dory. So, if others are like me, many of those pictures are carefully taken, chosen, and posted.

Pictures aside, I tell her about my memories as a mom and teacher that first week back to school. They're challenging. What helps me is just what this mom is doing: talking to someone about my upset.

Another thing that helps is to look at my difficulty from another perspective. 

I recall Deepak Chopra's encouragement. He suggests imagining we're standing in another person's shoes.

For example, ask yourself, "What story would your child or another parent tell about this experience?" The idea is to shift perspective enough to explore and gain insight. Others might note these things:

I see kids who are on shaky ground with a new routine and perhaps not able to be their best selves.

I see an independent son who doesn’t care so much about exterior things such as what he's wearing.

I see parents who allow their kids to choose their own clothes, even a too-small shirt with a stain.

I see parents who carefully choose their battles and know that what their kid is wearing doesn't matter as much as how the kid feels.

I see a mom awake enough to sense the emotional energy in her children and open enough to accept that humans, even little humans, feel a gamut of emotions. Especially on the first day of school.

I see a mom who is proud of her kids, so proud she wants to take photos and put them on Facebook.

I see parents who want to give a just-right birthday celebration to a son.

I see a mom who really wants to feel and be her best self.

I see a mom who is brave enough to ask a trusted friend to listen to her feelings, the real and yucky ones.

This mom touched on a universal experience. Parents and kids (and teachers) struggle with the transition back to school. I want to be okay with the first-day-back just as it is. Shirt stains optional. Feelings allowed.

Maybe we take pictures. Maybe not.