First Day of School: Reflections


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I woke up sad. I couldn’t figure it out until I set out on my daily routine. As I drove to the coffee shop, I passed the school zone flashing light and remembered: today’s the first day of school. For the first time—in more years than I can count—it’s a day of little significance to me. In fact if anything, it’s an inconvenience.

School zones are limiting my speed, school buses are clogging traffic, the coffee shops are more crowded with moms who just dropped kids off at school, and no doubt I’ll need to adjust to different busy times at the grocery store as well.

It’s the first time since my son started pre-school that I haven’t packed up a kid for the first day, taken a first day photo, or even dropped a kid off for college—my daughter graduated last June and moved to California. My son’s still in medical school, but he lives on his own of course, and he most definitely does not need my help getting ready for his 4:30 a.m. surgical rotation.

Sometimes I hear moms complaining about the first day of school—because summer’s over and they miss the beach and other summer activities. Other moms breathe a sigh of relief and head out to the gym or errands solo, grateful for a much-needed break from the constant companionship. I remember having years when I felt each of those emotions (although truth is I had many more when I missed my kids after they went back to school at the end of summer).

Now, as I sit in the usual coffee shop, I can’t concentrate on writing (not fiction anyway); I can’t think of much of anything but the years gone by, and to be honest I’m having trouble keeping tears at bay. I miss those first days. I miss the drop offs but especially the after school pick ups with all the stories that would pour out, the laughter, tears, teacher stories, homework complaints and even the extra-curriculars I had to rush to get my kids to after school.

After one first day—I think my son was in sixth or seventh grade—I asked him how the day went, and he told me it was great. That was the problem, he said. The first day was always great: all new and exciting. Seeing all your friends again, meeting your new teachers, checking out the new kids, seeing what the year had in store, wearing your new first day outfit (okay, that was just my daughter). The bad part, he continued, was the realization that you had to go back the next day… and the next … and the next.

And I guess maybe that’s what’s making today hardest. The next day. And the next. And the next…

How about you? How is/was the first day in your household? Do you have trouble with transitions (like I do)?




  1. In addition to it being my daughter’s first day of college classes, today is my first real day as an empty-nester, so I get it. My kids are both off at college but my son (a college senior) came home for the weekend, just a day after my daughter left. So, I haven’t yet acclimated to THIS. I do know that it’s very quiet here. And I don’t like it.

    • Julia Munroe Martin says:

      Yes, I agree, the quiet is very hard, isn’t it? You never realize until they leave how noisy even the silence of another person can be… and it’s hard to acclimate, I agree. And I don’t like it either.

  2. Julie Luek says:

    Oh Julia, that’s going to be me this time next year. How sad! 🙁 I will miss telling my sweet girl to have a good day in the morning and that I love her. Hmmm.. wonder how border-creepy it would be to call her at college every morning? 😉 Bitter-sweet, indeed.

    • Julia Munroe Martin says:

      It’s sad and hard. Yes, those morning routines are tough to let go… I really miss the mornings but the end of the school day is probably toughest for me… Enjoy your year, Julie!

  3. Oh man, this made me cry, Julia. I still have kids I take every day– 3rd and 6th grade. Every morning (other than the first) seems to be a battle with my daughter. Every morning, I get them up, make their breakfast, assemble their lunches, snacks, and water bottle. Every morning, I fix hair, clean glasses, and sign daily planners. Some days it takes all the strength I have to get up and do all this. Most days I stuff down my impatience, so I can be calm and pleasant. Occasionally we don’t get to school without tears. I’m worn out mentally by the time I get myself together, with my coffee, and make my way to work. But like you said, one day it will be done. I don’t know what I’ll do when that day comes. Excuse me while I go get a tissue. . .

    • Julia Munroe Martin says:

      Sorry to make you cry, Christina. I know what you mean… in the moment it can be very hard with so much to do. No question it can be trying. I guess we moms have challenges with every step and phase, right? Hope you guys have a great year! Sending hugs your way!

  4. Leslie Gteffenius says:

    Lovely lovely piece, Julia!

  5. As kids, I think we’re so oblivious to the transitions our poor moms made when we spread our wings and left the nest. I was home recently and my mom said to me, “Don’t you remember – every time someone would ask how I was for a month before you went to college, I’d break into tears, telling them you were going to be leaving?” Sadly: I don’t remember (Now, my tear-strained trek from PA to AZ as a bawling 27-year-old… Yeah… I remember that) . Maybe as a college student I was too excited about the taste of freedom, or maybe I was just too scared to admit how much I’d miss my mama bear. I’m going for the latter explanation now that I have hindsight on my side.

    Now, as an adult, I can understand how today would be so, so sad for you, Julia. And that makes me sad, too. Because I know that your kids may not realize it yet, but they will … of how much they treasure their mom and the role she played in shaping them into wonderful, productive, loving human beings. Try to take solace in that, Mama Munroe Martin. 😉

    • Julia Munroe Martin says:

      THANK YOU for that perspective! Like you have about your mom, my kids have both said to me how much they appreciate and treasure me — and like you I was oblivous to my own mother’s sadness… It’s so true that as young adults (rightfully so) we’re focused on our future lives. I’m glad my kids are the same! Thank you for your empathy and kind words, my friend, they mean so much! p.s. I’m sensing a new family nickname coming on, btw… I love Mama Munroe Martin. I’ll call myself Triple M for short 😉

  6. This is beautiful, Julia. I’m a long way from this point, but even so, I can see it coming. I know I’ll feel much the same way you do when I get there.

    • Julia Munroe Martin says:

      I’m so glad you enjoyed it, Tracy; thank you for your kind words. YAY for being a long way from where I am — enjoy the journey!

  7. My son went off to college a couple of days ago, and although it’s difficult, I’m getting used to the fact that my life is totally over and there is nothing left for me except a shallow lonely existence writing useless drivel on Twitter and Facebook which no one will read. Other than that, DOING GREAT!

    • Julia Munroe Martin says:

      HAHAHA. Thanks for the laugh, Perry, I needed that! Here’s to you joining the shallow lonely existence of writing useless drivel on social media; misery loves company, my friend!

  8. I’ve been thinking of you a lot these past days, Julia, since I’ve come across a lot of great essays in magazines and blog posts about new empty-nesters, and I can imagine it’s much like the transition I felt when my husband went from working from home to working downtown full-time (except, probably multiplied by a thousand).

    When my family dropped me off at college my freshman year, my sister told me that my mom cried the entire 6-hour ride home. But it also works both ways. I remember the first time my mom dropped me off for the first day of school (I think it was 6th grade) without walking me into the building. I wanted to stroll the halls with her and find my classroom and kiss her goodbye, like we’d always done, and she thought it was time for me to go on my own. I imagine that must have been difficult for her, in a different way that it was difficult for me. But I look back and am always thankful for all the times she did hold my hand, and all the times she helped me be brave by letting go.

    • Julia Munroe Martin says:

      You’re right, Natalia, this transition is really similar to what you and your husband went through. It’s all about transitions, and I’ve never been great at them. It’s great to hear about this from the kids’ POV… thank goodness for moms that do the right thing even when it’s hard and for kids that appreciate it! (BTW If you see any great empty nest articles, I’d love to have you send them my way.)

  9. Beautifully written, Julia; I could feel your heart in this and it made me want to hold Miss A ever so close. Hugs to you, my friend. You are STILL a terrific mother. Your children are blessed to have you.

    • Julia Munroe Martin says:

      Thank you for your hugs and kind words — and yes, do hold Miss A ever so close! xoxo

  10. Barb Riley says:

    Tears here, too, but I loved this post. In fact, I love reading and hearing from moms who are just a few years ahead of me, b/c you always remind me of what I have, and to not take it for granted, so thank you for that. I struggle with transitions more so than anyone else in my family. Everyone knows this about me and understands I need the appropriate length of time to work through my emotions, but in the midst of it all, there is melancholy. I wish there was another way out, but so far I’ve found I just have to sit with it. Hugs to you, my friend!

    • Julia Munroe Martin says:

      You’re so much like me, Barb! I have always been just the same way, seeking out moms a few years ahead — to prepare myself and also to remind me to appreciate every minute. I think that’s what it’s all about, just loving every minute of it… and, as you say, sitting with it. Hugs back, xoxox!

  11. Christine says:

    Awww. Julia, I’m with you on this one. This tugs on my heart strings, but the good news is that it reminds me of the sharp pain I used to feel. It’s turned into more of a blurred watercolor memory now. And it will for you too. Where should we meet for that cup of coffee?

    • Christine says:

      I have a little piece of fiction I wrote about the empty nest several years back. Maybe I’ll post it.

    • Julia Munroe Martin says:

      A blurred watercolor memory sounds nice right about now — thank you for your kind words and support — and as Barb says, it’s nice to hear from someone who’s a few years ahead of me. As for that coffee? If we both start driving right now, I think we’ll meet up somewhere in mid-PA area. Surely there’s a Starbucks somewhere near there 🙂 p.s. can’t wait to see the fiction about the empty nest; I hope you’ll post it!

  12. Cynthia Robertson says:

    Those days are far enough in the past now for me not to miss them terribly, but I do recall feeling like you do when my kids were younger. Mine are both still living near me and I see them often. If they moved away and I couldn’t see them frequently I think I’d be so lonely for them!
    This post was beautifully written, Julia!

  13. Oh Julia — give you a big hug. I’ve started looking at the moms of young children. The boys whose eyes get wide at the sight of a ball. Girls who still think a pink castle is magic. Though we still have children around, I’m reflecting on being a mom of older kids — ones who don’t think a trip to Disney as magical. It makes me feel old. And I definitely don’t like that. You need to focus on how well you did in your job as mum. Your daughter employed in a great job in a cool place. Your son in med school. It’s hard I know.

    • Julia Munroe Martin says:

      Thanks, Jamie — I needed a hug today! I know you have seen the writing on the wall, with your older son… so the future is clear, so I can well imagine the looks at the moms of young children (me too). Don’t get me wrong, most days, I do focus on how I did in my job as full-time mom (thank you for saying I did well), but once in a while I do let it get to me…

  14. Eliza says:

    Beautiful and poignant, Julia … I feel a sense of restlessness and nostalgia this time of year, too, but for slightly different reasons … Nine years out of high school, five years since my college graduation and it still feels wrong to not be heading off to my first day of school! I love this time of year – it’s ripe with change and possibility. Thanks for the food for thought. 🙂

    • Julia Munroe Martin says:

      My daughter (just out of college) said this post made her realize why she’s been feeling a little restless lately, too, so I guess it’s the same on both sides of the parent-child fence — a time of transition. Still, as you say, this time of year is ripe with change and possibility; I certainly agree with that. Thanks for your comment 🙂

  15. Leah says:

    Love this post Julia! I know I’m still in the beginning stages but I’m already dreading that first day of school when I’ll be without Sophie.

    • Julia Munroe Martin says:

      I’m so glad you enjoyed it, Leah! The dread starts early, I know — I remember that — but fortunately you have many more first days ahead, celebrating the wonders of the new year with Sophie!

  16. Since I don’t have kids, I haven’t had this experience, but your post reminded me of a wonderful thing: how wonderful it is to look forward to the first day. That could be the first day of anything. As we get older I think we tend to get anxious about change and new things. But new beginnings can be marvelous. Let’s look at them through the eyes of a child with excitement and wonder instead of worry. Great post, Julia!

    • Julia Munroe Martin says:

      I agree, Jackie, looking forward to first days is wonderful — and although yes I get anxious about change and new things, it’s also exciting. I think one of the hard things is that often the first days are of our own making and we have to make sure to make them — rather than having a structured kind of first day that is celebrated by many. Funny you should mention worry, that is a future blog topic I plan to tackle!

  17. j says:

    This made me cry, Julia. As you know, I’m in “the next, and the next, and the next” days too, trying to adjust, trying not to focus on what’s lost. Reading your post I thought, how did I ever get annoyed about all the dropping off and picking up, because, of course, now I’d love to have that time with The Boy again. You captured this particular ache beautifully.

    • Julia Munroe Martin says:

      Sorry to make you cry, Judy! It is a real adjustment to not focus on what’s lost, and I’m still working on that one. It’s definitely a process with lots of fits and starts.

  18. Nina says:

    This was a good reminder to appreciate these days—even when they hectic!