Standing on the Brink of Change

Kate Fries essays

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I had a moment the other day. Yes, it was a capital-M-Moment, the kind that forces you to recalibrate and reassess everything you know to be true about your life right now.

My sons and I were walking on a crowded sidewalk in San Francisco. When I turned my head to speak to one of them, I caught a glimpse of our reflections in a store window. For the first time, I realized, I didn’t tower over them. They could have been my peers. Or, rather, I could have been their peer. My sons are 12 and 9 and I am 5’2”. Soon, they and most of their friends who haven’t already done so will surpass me in height.

This moment wasn’t all that different from countless other trips into the city except, it was. I used to push a double stroller around Chicago. Now my sons are matching me stride for stride, navigating for me and telling me when I’ve made a wrong turn.

(Actually, my oldest son has always told me when we make a wrong turn. When he was 3 we called him the Human GPS. That hasn’t changed.)

What is changing is everything else. We are standing on the brink of change, big change. For the first time since my younger son was in kindergarten, my boys will not attend school together. My 12-year old is about to begin middle school. My younger son is also moving on to a new school. He’s been accepted into a magnet school with an arts-based curriculum. If it feels like we just did this—or a variation of this—it’s because we did. Two years ago we moved from the Bay Area of California to the Central Valley.

Things are changing for me, too. After a hiatus of a couple of years, I am writing and publishing regularly again. This is the first summer since leaving a full-time job publishing to stay home with my kids that I’ve scheduled my work into our regular summer schedule of fun activities and relaxing hours in front of the television.

All of these changes cause me a lot of anxiety even as I try to embrace them. I’m one who prefers to stick a toe in the icy waters, then a foot. Even when I get comfortable, I keep my head above water, always on alert and prepared for the next big disaster.

Paradoxically, raising kids is a slow kind of immersion, even as we’re thrown into it. Part of me has always felt my boys are a part of me, that I have known them intimately since I first felt them move inside of me. Yet as they have grown, new facets of their personalities have emerged and I’ve learned to trust my instincts when it comes to the big decisions.

I don’t know if I would be able to embrace sending my oldest into the wilds of middle school if I hadn’t known, from the beginning, that he’s a quirky kid. In recent years his interest in technology has begun to divide him from his sports-obsessed peers. Maybe he will finally find his own weird tribe at his STEM-based middle school. And I’ve questioned whether it’s a good idea to transfer my younger son away from a school where he is popular and has lots of friends. But he hasn’t thrived academically there and I’m hopeful the way the arts are integrated into the curriculum—something he loved about his old school in the Bay Area—will spark a new interest in learning and change his attitude about school.

Two years ago we moved across the state and I clung to the old, taking way too long to accept our new normal. This time I am taking the opposite approach. Our life isn’t slowing down and the challenges of parenting, while they change with the stage of life our kids are in, will always be there. The only way to deal with them is to embrace the unknown and dive in.


About the Author

Kate Fries

Kate Fries lives with her husband and tween sons in Central California, where she is a journalist at a mid-sized newspaper. Her work has also appeared in Good Housekeeping, Huffington Post, and Club Mid. She can often be found running and listening to comedy podcasts.

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