By Emma Margraf

An empty classroomI have always loved September. I love the warmth of the end of summer, I love new backpacks and pencils and notebooks… I love the promise, and the hope and the possibility. As Jane gets new books for new classes I get excited and say, “Oh boy! YOU get to read THIS!” and she rolls her eyes.

But the reality of back-to-school time has never lived up to my expectations. So my hopes for Jane and the new school year might be a little misguided.

Let’s be honest; most of us aren’t raising children that have idyllic experiences in public school. Public school might be great for athletic stars, kids who are socially gifted, children from families who have money, children who are white, children who are not in foster care, children who find being in a classroom stimulating and easily manageable—but no kids are that one-dimensional.

Most of us are raising children who have at least one aspect of their personality or lives that makes school hard. Most of us are raising children that have had a mixed school experience at best. And that’s ok. It’s ok to be nervous this week. It’s ok to be disappointed. If that’s something you’ve been afraid to say, I’m here to tell you that Jane’s going to be ok, I am going to be ok, and so are you. I wish I had understood this, but hopefully it is helpful to you now. Whatever is ok for your child, is ok.

I love back-to-school time, and I also get nervous about it. Ever since I became a parent, the hope and promise that comes with September has also been fraught with so much peril. I want teachers to love Jane, rather than tolerate her. I want her to love learning. I want there to be mind-blowing moments where kids stand on desks and say, “Oh Captain, My Captain!” So, already school is disappointing—just as it was when I was there.

In spite of that disappointment, Jane’s ok. She’s going to graduate. She’s probably going to college next year. She’s going to be one of the thirty-six percent of foster kids that graduates next year and therefore has a chance.

That is magical.

So is the fact that she tested into college English, loved having three lines in the school play, and has made friends. Even though the school isn’t an idyllic place for her, that magic means so much.

As this school year begins, I’m going to take a pass at arguing with the disappointment. I’m going to keep my fears in check. I’m going to take a step back to see the whole picture so that I don’t miss any magic as it passes by.

Emma Margraf is a writer and a foster parent in Washington state. She writes mostly about foster parenting and nonprofit life, but she aspires to be a food and travel writer and to make the perfect grilled cheese.

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