popcornWearing a summer tank top and fluffy fleece pajamas, accompanied by Ralph (dog), Fireheart (cat), Cotton Candy (owl), and Eve (baby doll), Zoe is tucked into bed, listening to the Wailin’ Jennys at low volume. The night before her first day of third grade and all of us (except Zeke, thankfully) are a bit on edge. Zoe is nervous about a new teacher who she’s only just met, and a class that only includes one of her good friends, and also includes a girl who made life difficult for Zoe back in first grade. She said she’s not ready for summer to end–a summer that has been exciting and expansive for her–and although she loves school, she repeated to me all day that she’s just not ready for it to start again. She is alarmed at the idea that she’s already halfway through elementary school. As am I. I reminded her that there’s plenty of time to experience the next three years, although my mind also shudders to imagine middle school, even though this summer I’ve seen glimpses of Zoe’s teenage self, and both admired and been aggravated by her burgeoning independence.

Tonight we played a little Taboo and read the first seven pages of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, having solved the mystery of the Prisoner of Azkaban last night. We watched the third movie last night and this morning and discussed discrepancies between the book and movie and reaffirmed our belief that the books are better, although the flying scenes are always spectacular. We cleaned the house today and painted pottery and went to the back to school picnic. Zoe didn’t argue about going to bed earlier than usual. She was clearly exhausted in body and spirit, the adrenaline that has fueled the past three months spent.

I wish I could go to bed now too, actually, but there is too much to do, in my house and on my computer, but mostly in my head. There is the school year’s first preschool newsletter to put together, and the school year’s first third grade lunch to make, and so many items to add to so many lists. Find out where to get tuberculosis screening, update PTA website, figure out what we’re going to have for dinner all those nights when we have martial arts or soccer practice till 7pm. I am resolved to start Weight Watchers tomorrow. What am I going to eat when I’m stressed out and starving? How am I not going to stop at Burger King on the way home from co-oping at Zeke’s preschool? How am I not going to drink Coke or Dr. Pepper, which I love and crave? How will I even remember to eat breakfast? So many questions. And there’s a book I started last night, a young adult book I picked up at the Green Valley Book Fair this summer, that’s totally fascinating about a girl with synesthesia. I was up till 1am reading it last night and had to force myself to turn out the light. You may notice that I haven’t even mentioned work. I still have a business to run, and people to interview, and articles to write. Oy.

I am trying to carve out more space for myself this fall. I am co-facilitating a covenant group at church, and just had lunch with my co-facilitator, who I had only met in passing when she was one of Zoe’s religious education teachers last spring. It turns out she’s fantastic and we have all kinds of unexpected things in common. I am looking forward to getting to know people at our new church, in a meaningful way. I’m also planning to participate in a leadership retreat with the church in October. I will be away for Halloween. I haven’t told Zoe yet. She’s going to be–wait for it–Harry Potter. Zeke said he would be a doctor, so hopefully we still have Zoe’s doctor costume from kindergarten somewhere in the house. He will gladly check your eyes and ears if you let him and give you plenty of shots. We are definitely pro-vaccination in our family.

I am hopeful that some of this spiritual development will help me better manage my anxiety from moment to moment. Times of transition, like, for example, NOW, are really tough. I understand that they are tough for many (most?) people, but I can only really speak to the cacophony of WHAT IF WHAT IF WHAT IF boomeranging around in my head. Third grade in Zoe’s soccer league is when they transition to bigger fields, bigger balls, playing positions, and calling fouls. What if it’s too hard, too much, too competitive? What if Zoe stops loving to play soccer? Coincidentally this month she’ll be taking the test in martial arts to become a blue solid belt, which would move her from advanced into the SUPER ADVANCED class. How can she be super advanced at something? She’s eight! But she’d be in the class with the blue belts and the red belts and the black belts. She has to accomplish a serious board break to make this move, and we know what happened last time she had to do a serious board break. She is worried that will happen again, that it will take her countless tries to break the board. While she survived last time, and demonstrated courage and composure, I’m pretty sure none of us wants to go through that again.

I keep reading about how we–as a society–need to stop protecting our kids so much, how we need to let them forget, let them fall, let them fail, so they will learn on their own to remember, to get up again, to figure out how to succeed. This advice is so obvious, yet so hard to follow when faced with seeing your child struggle. I have to make a conscious effort to remind myself that all this change is necessary, and all these challenges can be positive. What if I’m doing it wrong? often echoes in my brain, especially when I’ve made one of those million little decisions each day for my children. Can she have a Sprite? Should I let them watch another episode of “Odd Squad?” Does it make everything all right if we snuggle and tickle a lot and I give the dinosaurs who won’t fit on the dinosaur train books to read? I’ve given Zoe new third grade chores. We have enforced them only loosely in the weeks leading up to school starting. I’ve told her that Zeke is her apprentice in setting the table and once she teaches him how, it will no longer be her responsibility. We have a lot of clever ideas that never come to fruition.

There’s still plenty of time, right? We don’t have to do everything tonight. Except have some popcorn. That we definitely have to do tonight.