Tomorrow’s your first day of school.
Normally, we’d have a family dinner and I’d get to tell you ALL THE THINGS.
All the things…
About how to be brave and kind and helpful.
About how to give your teachers a chance.
About how to say hi to a kid who looks lonely.
About how NOT to gossip, or believe the things other people tell you.
About how to work hard and expect the unexpected and do your best.
Normally, we’d have a family dinner and I’d get to hold your hands while we say grace and I’d close with my favorite reminder that our hands create a circle of Love and how that makes us pretty darn lucky and so the least we can do is spread some of that Love around.
Normally, I’d get to kiss and hug you goodnight and make sure there were Lucky Charms in the pantry (our traditional good luck breakfast). I’d get to wake up early and pack your lunches and make you take a picture with the neighbor kids as we have for the past fifteen years.
But tomorrow isn’t normal, because two of the three of you aren’t here to do them!
Tomorrow is your first day of school at COLLEGE and you aren’t living here anymore. Molly alone will suffer through (or bask in) all my attention. Molly alone in the morning pictures. Molly alone with a big box of marshmallow goodness.
Will she survive? Will I?
It’s all good, just weird, which is probably why I’m writing. It’s how I work out what’s weird at any given time.
So, here’s a rundown of your mom’s past week.
Wednesday, Finn and I drove up the coast and started moving him in.
Thursday, we visited Keara at Cal State Long Beach.
Friday, we played.
Saturday, I left.
And I’m not going to lie, I cried. I held Finn in my arms for one giant last hug and I felt my heart ache, just like it did when your dad and I left Keara at college for the first time.
Why? I thought. Why is something so exciting, so natural, and so good, so hard to do? What is it about that final moment that tears me apart?
I listened to sad music for a while on my drive home, but it was getting hard (and dangerous) to see through the tears, so I put on one of my favorite episodes of On Being – the one with Richard Rohr. (I know, I know, kids! Big surprise!) But this time, I heard him explain those final moments we shared and why they were so surreal.
“In the Greek, in the New Testament, there’s two words for time. Chronos is chronological time, time as duration, one moment after another, and that’s what most of us think of as time.”
Chronos: Those were my first eighteen years with you guys – day in and day out. The chronos of diaper changes and playgroups and skinned knees and teacher conferences. The chronos of school days and carpools, casseroles and soccer teams. The chronos of homework and dishes and bed-making. The chronos of the lives we’ve shared.
And then he goes on to say:
“But there was another word in Greek, kairos. And kairos was deep time. It was when you have those moments where you say, “Oh my god, this is it. I get it,” or, “This is as perfect as it can be,” or, “It doesn’t get any better than this,” or, “This moment is summing up the last five years of my life,” things like that where time comes to a fullness, and the dots connect, when we can learn how to more easily go back to those kind of moments or to live in that kind of space.”
I listened and I thought, Kairos. That’s it, Keara and Finn! That’s why hugging you goodbye was such an out of body experience for me. That day, even up until that very moment, was chronos – the final touches on your new room, the twenty dollars snuck into your wallet, the walking out to the car. It was sad, but normal, until it wasn’t.
In our final embrace, my heart touched yours and then I time-traveled into kairos. I felt the “summing up” of our last eighteen years together, from the moment I first held you in my arms until the very moment when I symbolically let you go. If it were a movie, it would have flashed on your sandy blonde hair, your chubby cheeks and gap-toothed grins, the way you would both squeeze me tight each night and beg for one more hug, story, or song. It would have covered the slammed doors and raised voices and moments of tearful reconciliation. It would have covered your moments of greatest bliss and greatest heartache, when your dad and I were the first ones you looked to for assurance, because we were the way you made sense of the world.
So many years have passed since those things were true. Chronos marched on, but kairos preserved it in my memory and gave it to me as a gift when we left you. And that’s the thing about kairos. It has to be recognized and welcomed, when we’d rather let it pass us by. We’re rational, cynical, linear people. The shift feels disconcerting and uncomfortable, and you can’t shut it down. You have to get past that before it can work its magic.
Kairos whispers to us: Take it all. Take the Love and the hurt, the hopes and the fears, the reality and the possibility. Experience it and then let it change your chronos, the way you live and love and look at your people day after day after day.
I don’t mean to say that this is the only kairos moment I’ve ever had, or will have with you. College drop-off isn’t the end-all-be-all by any means. It’s just an opportunity, but milestones of all sorts abound. Moments of deep joy and deep sadness are woven throughout our lives. Trust me, you will experience it, perhaps with me, but certainly with other people you will come to know and love. We often make a big fuss about the event itself, but maybe, just maybe, it’s really about the shift in time and the chance to experience the totality of Love.
So one last thing, kiddos. Here’s the piece of advice I wanted to share. It’s from an IG poet called Atticus.
Imagine me calling you to the family room tonight. You’d come out of your rooms complaining, itching to get back to your phones, or Netflix, or closets where you were deciding what to wear tomorrow. But you’d come, because you always do. You’re good sports that way.
Put your hand on your heart, I’d say.
And I’d walk you through the wisdom of the poet.
And I’d will you to know your power
Tomorrow and always
I love you.
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Ali, Your post brought back my own memories of Justin and Kelsey’s school years and finally going off to college. Your post is for all the parents and all the beloved children still in the nest or the adult children we still miss on the first day of school.
Ali, Loved reading your words and hearing your thoughts on this subject. I also dropped off my oldest this August at college. She did not want me to go, which made it all the harder. I loved your ideas on chronos and kairos time. I was also reminded of someone who said once to “Feel it all. The good and the bad”. I try to do that now more than ever before, and the teaching we had in the LS really helped with that. Peace to you, my fellow partner in adulthood. Lynne Kemp