This is the time of year for first day of school stories, and the intraweb is abounding with them. Angie’s eldest is just beginning his educational journey as a kindergartner, while Suzanne’s youngest started his “last” first day this week as a high school senior. Several Facebook friends are sending their firstborns and their “babies” off to college, leaving them to contemplate their nests in various stages of emptiness.
It all makes me a little nostalgic, even though I can’t remember my son’s school days with much fondness (nor does he, I’m sure). No matter how much I wanted him to love school as much as I once did, it wasn’t meant to be. From his first experience in nursery school when he walked out of the classroom and down the hall intending to make his way home, to the last weeks of high school which he attended with gritted teeth and steely jawed determination to finish it with honor, school was an onerous obligation, an elephant on his back, a ball and chain around his ankle.
By the end of his senior year, I was just as overjoyed to say goodbye to his school days as he was. Because he had chosen a college program that was laser focused on his area of interest and allowed a great deal of independence, I felt confident he would be happier. Even though it took him far away from home, even though I knew he’d never be back here to live, I felt he had made a good decision.
The stories about little ones going off with their backpacks and lunch boxes make me smile, but they also make me cringe a little bit as well. School creates such a huge change in family life, with all its extra activities and homework and social commitments. Gone are the lazy nights reading stories, riding bikes, or playing games – I understand even five and six year olds are expected to complete an hour’s worth of homework every night. And once children are in school, there are so many different factors that impact their emotional and physical well being, factors which parents can’t always control – they can be bullied by classmates, misunderstood by teachers, exposed to viruses and hurt in playground accidents. Instinctively, I want to keep them little and carefree, away from the harsh realities of life that school sometimes entails.
Of course I know that’s impossible and unwise. Last month, we watched a family of robins who had built a nest under the roof outside our family room window. Each day, the fledglings got larger and more vocal, until one evening their mother fed them dinner and then literally shoved them out of the nest, one by one. Within a few minutes, they were all gone, the whole family flown off into the world leaving their nest empty and forlorn. The human process, while much longer and more complicated, is just as vital and wrenching in some ways. And, in our society, going to school is part of it.
Twelve years have gone by since I had to prepare anyone to go Back to School. In about five years, I’ll be thinking about my little grandson going off to school for the first time, and wondering whether it will be the start of a marvelous adventure for him like it was for me, or the beginning of 12 years of drudgery like it was for his father.
Let’s hope the school gene skips a generation.
Wishing you and your children, whatever their ages or stages, a wonderful school year!