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  • Writer's pictureCatherine Tidd

Back-to-School Anxiety. Mine, Not Theirs.

I'm sitting here with a sore jaw and back teeth that have every indication that I was grinding my teeth last night.

What's got me stressed?

  • Business? Nope.

  • Bills? Shoot. I should probably check on that.

  • My cat's tendency to drown her toy mice in her water bowl? Concerning, but not anxiety inducing.


I know you think this isn't a big deal - after the year we've had, back-to-school has everyone anxious.

But this has been happening for years.

It started after my husband died - or maybe it would have happened anyway. My oldest was going into the first grade that year, so I don't really know if this started as a grief thing or if I would have felt this way regardless.

Each year, August comes around and I find myself taking shallower breaths and wondering why I feel so "off." It's taken 14 years of back-to-schools for me to realize that I dread that moment when I take the kids' pictures on that first day when they're feeling so optimistic and ready to take on the world (which changes about mid-September when they realize the slog that's ahead of them). The first moments of silence in the house are welcome, but the lead up to that has me feeling a mixture of sadness and fear.

Nothing to me marks the passage of time like back-to-school. Somehow, I can sail right through the kids' birthdays - I have a daughter about to turn 20 which is impossible to believe because I, myself, am only 25 - and not shed a tear. I don't think of turning over a new year as a huge time of transition - it's just a date on a calendar to me.

But the thought of having a junior in college, a senior in high school, and a sophomore in high school makes me puddle up every time I think about it. And it makes me more than a little scared.

The Anxiety

While I've spent the entire summer cursing my kids for leaving a trail of shoes, lifeguard whistles, food wrappers, and evidence of every interest they have around the house...I suddenly feel like this summer sped by faster than I could absorb it.

Could this be the last summer my 20-year-old comes home?

Will my son even return my texts once he leaves for college after this year? (He's pretty spotty in that department.)

Will I even see my social butterfly daughter after she gets her license in a few months?

I look at the year ahead as I have every other school year - a time of major change and gradual adjustment. All signs point to everything being okay - because we've gotten through a lot of years of school - but right now it just seems overwhelming.

The Fear

What's ahead for me? As the kids get more and more independent, I have to rely more on myself to keep busy - and that would be true whether or not I was still married. I know Brad and I would have found ourselves working through a huge transition and that would have been difficult. The transition is still there...but it's entirely up to me how I deal with it. And sometimes that scares the hell out of me.

As with everything in life, I know it's important to take a "one-day-at-a-time" approach. After all, I had a nervous breakdown when I brought my oldest to college in the fall of 2019 only to have her back for a year because of Covid. Who knows what the future will bring? And I know that I'm not being suddenly thrust into a new world - it is gradual and I'll do my best to prepare for it.

But for now, it's August - my least favorite time of the year. It's time to pack boxes, open backpacks that were discarded in May (hopefully without food in them), go to the mall to buy clothes I don't understand (when did bicycle shorts come back?)...

...and get ready for another year of change.

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