Thoughts ahead of their last school year

First day of school, 2003


It’s back to school for kids in Sweden this week and something feels not quite right. In fact, a good deal feels decidedly unsettling, because after eighteen similar child-rearing summers spent travelling to warmer climes, ferrying the children to and from day camps, preparing and packing for teen camps, or simply watching them run barefoot by a lake where dining al fresco was a weather-permitting family given, this year has been a soul-searing summer of unwelcome firsts.

Including the first time we did not travel as a family.

Because this year my almost grown-up daughters spent their school holiday working summer jobs in Stockholm or hanging out with friends. I don’t blame them in the slightest; I did exactly the same thing at their age. But meh.

This year, I missed watching their skins turn tan and their hair slowly lighten in the sun.

And I missed yanking sleepy teens out of bed before a lazy hotel breakfast followed by a day of sunbathing, sightseeing or shopping. Missed standing in an odd-smelling Chinatown store while inquisitive daughters checked out the goods. Missed holding my breath while they rode seemingly death-defying roller coasters or disappeared under a salty wave. I even missed the older memories of rinsing sand out of swimwear and carrying seashells home in a plastic bucket.

And my nostalgic lament goes on.

We are a family of card players, a practice introduced to entertain our daughters while waiting for food when they were small, and more lately, as a ruse to keep mobile phones off the table. Order a meal then deal. We’ve played all over Europe and the US, at eateries ranging from wonky outdoor seaside cafés to crisp white-clothed city establishments; their only common denominator being a nod of approval towards a family playing cards. And I missed that too. Missed the joviality and good-natured rivalry as fortunes ebbed and flowed while the summer rolled by.

This summer, my favourite family memories have been reduced to a trip to a nail salon and devouring a Dunkin’ donut with one daughter, and lunch with a shared dessert at TGI Friday’s with the other. Precious one-on-one mother-daughter catch-up moments between teenage trips away.

And this summer was the first time — and here’s the real rub — I had to live with the knowledge that this was their last school summer holiday, ever.

My days as a school mother are rapidly drawing to a close.

Gone is the excitement of shopping for a new rucksack, pens, pencils, eraser, sharpener, trendy pencil case and gym clothes ahead of the new school year. This used to be a day out in itself. When asked what they need this year, they said just a new school diary.

And on a much more significant note, once they turn 18 in October we are no longer welcome to attend progress meetings with the school teaching staff without the expressed permission of our upper secondary school daughters.

Our lives will no longer be bound by school schedules and activities. We can stop thinking in school terms, travel when we wish for as long as we like. In the eyes of the law, we’re officially done.

I’m well aware that I’m whining about an inevitably that every parent faces. I have no worthy defence.

But I do, perhaps, have a flimsy explanation.

It’s one of the downsides of being a mother of two who happen to be twins. Every milestone is a one-off; a first time and a last time rolled into two daughters. First birthday, first day at daycare, last day at daycare, first day of school, first national exam, turning teenage, sweet sixteen, confirmation, graduation from compulsory school, starting new upper secondary schools and now, in just ten short months, graduation from upper secondary school before leaving for university or gap year adventures.

Changes in the Kvarnström household tend to be staccato rather than smooth transitions, and I’m not always the best manager of change. Empty nest syndrome will kick in with abrupt ruthlessness and the house will grow quiet.

Which, I know, I know, is the way it’s meant to be.

It’s the reason why we’ve tried to teach them all we can about safety and responsibility, compassion and kindness. Street awareness and the ability to question.

And as much as I’ve missed them, I’ve loved seeing their tanned faces tumble through the door with a bag of laundry and perhaps a pal in tow. Relished the fact that they can travel without mishap,

If we, as their parents, continue to play our cards properly, our daughters will continue to come and go for several years yet. The family home will continue to be their base: a rock from which they’ll dive into unchartered waters, safe in the knowledge that they can return to solid ground to enjoy a family meal, a round of cards, have a skinned heart kissed better and generally stock up on reassurance that they are capable, confident women.

But that’s all down the line.

In the meantime, I, their mother, have ten more months to welcome my kids home from school.

I shall smile and make the most of them.

Showing 4 comments
  • Linda Rhoades

    Another lovely post. Well done!

  • Ruth Kvarnström-Jones

    Thanks, Linda! That warmed my heart.

  • Kathleen Hering

    ’twas no better with two sons almost five years apart in age. We had finally recovered from the exit of Number One when it was time for Number Two to hit the road. Never mind that the universities they attended were each less than an hour’s drive from home. . . What ever would we talk about over dinner?

  • Ruth Kvarnström-Jones

    Kathleen!! Fabulous to hear from you! Oh Lordy, so I’m in for a long recovery process come the day. I suspected that I might be. So happy you’ve reached out. I know I owe you an email but it went so long it became embarrassing. But now I feel it’s still ok to reply. Thank you!

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