It is early morning. My kids go back to school today.

The backpacks are packed, every item that can bear a name tag has one, and the pencils are sharpened. At least, half of them are. Suddenly I couldn’t remember whether the teachers liked to have the pencils pre-sharpened. Then I pictured the other children happily taking turns at the sharpener and my own children miserable at being left out. So I decided to do half and half. Yes, I know I overanalyze everything! It’s part of being a writer and a mother.

It’s been a tough summer for writing. I’ve hired a babysitter for a few afternoons here and there, but frankly, I’ve had trouble getting my head into the game. I feel guilty writing during the summer, as if by having my children romp for a few hours with the sweet teenager who lives next door I am depriving them of something vital that only I can give. In my saner moments I realize this is nonsense; we’ve had all sorts of fun time together this summer, from blueberry picking to craft projects to a vacation in Maine.

Yesterday, a couple other mothers and I took our children for a last fling at a park. The kids waded around the stream below a sunlit waterfall, catching crayfish, frogs and minnows, while the other mothers and I talked about all our mingled feelings: joy, regret, guilt. We weren’t sure (at least I wasn’t) whether we’d be dancing or crying when the bus pulled up.

Part of me can’t wait for the quiet house, for more time for my writing. And part of me feels terribly guilty about feeling that way. What sort of awful mother am I? I remind myself that it’s important to find balance: time to be with my little ones, but also time to nurture myself and my own creativity. My children look to me as a role model. I don’t want them to see a cranky martyr; I don’t want to pass on the burden of guilt. I want them to see a woman passionate about them and about her work, too. One who takes risks and doesn’t limit herself to a single role in life.

So to any mothers sending their children back to school, remember it’s OK to do the happy dance in your bathrobe as the bus pulls away. It’s also OK to shed a few (buckets of) tears.

I expect I’ll do both. Then I’ll get back to writing.