As September turns to October and summer slips away, something just doesn’t feel right. The baseball season is winding down, football season has kicked off, and hockey training camps and preseason games are underway. The leaves are starting to change colors, the days are getting shorter and there’s no need for an air conditioner anymore. Then I see one of those silly commercials about who is happier about going back to school, the parents or the kids, and I know what’s making feel out of sort. School is back in session, but not in my house.
For the first time in about seventeen years, I don’t have a child in a public school. That feels very strange, almost disorienting, because from September to June, the schedule always revolved around the kids and their schedule. My wife and I worked our appointments, errands, and dates around the kids’ schedules that were defined mostly by school. We had to pick them up from their after school activities, run to the store to get supplies for a project (usually the day before it was due and ten minutes before the store closed), and make sure we didn’t stay out past 9:00 on a weeknight during school. We don’t have to do that anymore.
I saw the few young neighborhood kids waiting for the bus the first day of school. They were excited, they were smiling, and they were happy, probably looking forward to learning a whole lot of stuff and meeting new kids. I loved it, because whether it was their first year of their third, they still liked school. Their optimism and joy hadn’t been snuffed out yet. If only they could stay that way forever.
I thought back to my first day of school and how excited I was to be going. I was moving up to the “big” kid level, going to the place my older brothers and sisters had gone. I didn’t go to kindergarten, so Elementary school was a big step for me. We lived close enough to the school that we didn’t take the bus; we were Walkers, as they called the kids who didn’t take the bus. I don’t really remember if Mom walked us to school on the first day, or if she drove us, but I do remember that first day.
Mom was holding my hand as she walked me to the classroom. I was nervous, excited, and a little scared because the school was a lot bigger than I thought. As a matter of fact, I liked the look of it from the outside better than the inside. When we got to the classroom, I suddenly realized I was going to be here at school all day, with all these strange people, WITHOUT MOM! Now I was really scared. I decided that, no thank you, I don’t want to be here and refused to go in to the room. I started crying, probably thinking that would get me off the hook, but Mom and this “Miss Zona” lady were doing their best to calm me down and get me into that room.
Unfortunately for them, nothing was working. That is until I heard the sweetest words ever. “At snack time you can have milk and peanut butter cookies,” Miss Zona said. Wait. What? Peanut butter cookies if I go into the room and stay for a while? And some milk to go with it? I let go of Mom’s hand, turned off the water works, and gave her the brush off. Why hadn’t they told me this earlier? We could have avoided the little misunderstanding at the door. I went into the classroom, looking forward to snack time, figuring I could hold out until then. The amazing part of all this was that I actually enjoyed the whole day, not just snack time, and Miss Zona turned out to be an awesome teacher, having just the right balance of motherly kindness and teacherly sternness.
I’m still getting used to not being involved with school, teachers, homework, projects, plays, and chorus. I don’t have to make sure the kids are getting enough sleep and eating something before rushing off to school. It’s wonderful in many ways, but there’s one thing that’s nagging me: What am I going to do with all this extra time?