Co-Parenting Means I Missed My Kids’ First Day of School This Year

The huge arching rainbow of balloons welcoming students at the entrance of my children’s school had already been taken down when I called to see if maybe, just maybe, it would still be up the following week, when it was my week with my children.

The first week of school has ended for them. They have explored the brand-new school building (their school was under construction all last year), worn their new face masks, sat at their new desks, met their new teachers, and had music, art, and gym three times already. They listened to morning announcements and learned the school rules, they tested out every inch of the playground, and they wrote their names on folders and notebooks probably dozens of times.

They have started first grade and fourth grade, and I know these back-to-school events have happened despite the lack of a shared first-day-of-school photo. My son Phoenix said on the phone he likes being on the second floor of the building and my daughter Vivian already made a few friendship bracelets, but I haven’t seen the excitement for the new school year on my children’s faces yet, I haven’t hugged them before morning drop-off yet, or tucked a note in their lunch sack. Instead, we will have our own official first week of school together —  next week.

After a year and a half of co-parenting, I’m still adjusting to sharing time with my kids.

After a year and a half of co-parenting, I’m still adjusting to sharing time with my kids. I don’t know if it will ever feel normal to not be there for every week of my kid’s young lives. Co-parenting has been tough on my heart, what with the letting go, the here and then gone, and the accepting of the fact that life now involves recreating, planning ahead, and curating special moments, sometimes, yes, a week later.

I especially missed this first-day-of-school milestone and the feeling of a fresh start after such a whirlwind year last year, when we blended remote learning in the fall and then tentatively stepped back into the classroom in the winter and spring when learning environments still felt unpredictable, everyone was on edge, and there were no balloons or welcoming signage.

Over time, I have learned to not have expectations or impose during my ex’s time with our kids, and to limit the stress and keep the mood light. So I make milestones and traditions my own and do things my way, during my week. I focus on the time I have with my kids and make it special for us.

Before the school year started my son Phoenix picked out a cool backpack designed by his favorite Youtuber, my daughter Vivian did the same. We ordered new shoes and a special shirt to wear on the first day of school. I had made a few trips to get all their school supplies and packed up their school bags and showed them where everything was the night before the parent switch.

While my kids were embracing their new school routines, I went to my favorite park and saw the dragonflies playing tag, and the turtles wading and peeking their heads above the pond water playfully. I walked on the boardwalk and immersed myself in the beauty around me to distract myself from longing to be with my children. I said to myself, you’re thankful — they are healthy, resilient, and this will be a great year for them.

While walking I reflected on some of our most recent memories: Phoenix and I enjoying a seafood lunch at the zoo this summer, his smile melting my heart as he happily got soaked when it rained unexpectedly. Vivian being determined and brave while getting her ears pierced for the first time. Watching them build an obstacle course for their hamsters, throwing a frisbee together in the park, and how they race from one end of the swimming pool to the other and ask me to time them. These moments of summer and more are archived in my mind.

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I hold these memories close when I wish I could look in their eyes; when the ache for their faces hurts my heart, I see my son’s silly smirk and eyebrow arching, I look at my chipped fingernails to see where my daughter painted a matching color last week, and when their voices feel far and the separation starts to sting my soul, these memories keep me going.

Now, there are new routines, alarm clocks to set, freshly sharpened pencils, and fall quickly approaching. The school building will again become a constant in their life — one place that is consistent, and this brings me comfort.

I feel behind already, so I re-read the teacher emails that sum up the first week of school, and sigh. There will be weeks when I read the school newsletter obsessively, curious and anxious to know what my kids are doing, seeing, and learning, and this will bring me solace when the living room isn’t full of their voices telling me about gym class or an art project, or their concerns.

But next week is mine. I bought extra back-to-school shirts and extra masks for my week, and I’m preparing some jokes on Post-It notes to place in my kid’s lunch sacks. I will make eggs and waffles for breakfast; I will braid my daughter’s hair and help her with her earrings; I’ll make sure my son’s favorite socks and shorts are washed and ready to go. I’m stocking up on their preferred lunches and snacks, and I’m buying my own balloons to set around the living room.

After the morning circus, I will ask my kids to stand side-by-side for a photo — and of course, there will probably be a groan or two, but some traditions live on, just as important, even if delayed.

There will be some new books and cupcakes when they get home. I will re-create that exciting back-to-school feeling the best I can, but also, I know I won’t get a photo of every highlight of their lives on the day when it happens. I’m learning that with or without a photo, what counts is valuing the time we spend together, here and now. There won’t always be a chance to snap a photo of my children against the festive balloon backdrop display at the entrance of school each year, but I’ll still get the back-to-school photos and their smiles — it may just be a week later.

Before you go, check out these Cute & Stylish Kids Face Masks.

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