First Day of the Rest of our Lives

We all know that old saying, and truth be told, for the most part it is true. Each day is a new beginning, a chance to venture out with a fresh start. The past is always behind us and the future is always ahead.

I make this my topic today for one simple reason: today, my youngest daughter started her Senior year of high school. With a son living in Los Angeles and another daughter away at college, it just really struck me today how much life has changed in the past few years and how much more it will change in the next few years to come. It’s an odd feeling of nostalgia and some melancholy and wrapped tightly in a blanket of pride and optimism.

M98I am far from alone in this feeling today. The day after Labor day is not the exclusive, but is the traditional start of the new school year in the United States. Tens of thousands of parents are in the same boat as I am, and many, like me, watched their last child walk out the door for their first day of their last year of high school.

The nostalgia and the melancholy are wrapped together. Like the roots of a large tree we cannot untangle them. They are permanently and completely intertwined. The nostalgia is the memory of all that has gone past. The first smile, the first step, learning to ride a bicycle, the first day of school. It was the skinned knee that we kissed and made all better and the broken heart that we couldn’t, and how our own heart broke because we – the parents – were supposed to be able to fix everything. All the times we laughed, smiled, cried, hoped, dreamed, and prayed. All the times we grabbed a quick photo, and all the times we wished we’d had a camera with us but instead committed the image to our memories where over time is softens and becomes slightly fuzzy and changed.

Likewise, our pride in our children and our optimism at what the future holds for them are folded over upon one another. So many of the things that created the nostalgia were also moments of pride. Watching them grow into good people. People you wished you could have been yourself. Trophies, awards, prizes, but also the times when the only reward was knowing that they tried their very best. Watching them pick themselves up after failing and moving right along as if nothing happened or will stop them. What we have witnessed as our children have grown into young adults also gives us the optimism for their futures. Regardless of what they endeavor to do, don’t we as parents all wish they will be just a little better then us? A little more successful? Successful on their terms, not ours.

I think that we, as adults, sometimes need to reflect on our children, on all children, and remember what a joy it was to be a kid. We were so creative and original. We held no prejudices, no stereotypes, and we loved everyone and everything unconditionally (except perhaps for lima beans). We get to relive that through moments with our own children and the children of friends and loved ones, but we need to try and hold on to it longer, and maybe remember that feeling even when we are not around children. Wouldn’t we all be just a little better for that?

To all the kids who started a new school year today, have a great year. Learn new things and continue to grow as the fine young people you are. To the parents, like myself, revel in all that you have accomplished and the lessons you have taught. Remember that when your heart breaks because it swollen beyond its capacity with nostalgia, melancholy, pride, and optimism, it’s really not such a bad thing.

“I walked over to the hill where we used to go and sled. There were a lot of little kids there. I watched them flying. Doing jumps and having races. And I thought that all those little kids are going to grow up someday. And all of those little kids are going to do the things that we do. And they will all kiss someone someday. But for now, sledding is enough. I think it would be great if sledding were always enough, but it isn’t.”
Stephen Chbosky, The Perks of Being a Wallflower


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