The First Day of School

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!

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14 thoughts on “The First Day of School

  1. I never had a little one getting ready for the first day of school. Greg and Kevin were still in elementary school when I met them, but because they lived at their mom’s, it was a little different. But when Kevin left home for college — that was tough! We were so glad when he transferred back here, but I’m sure we’ll say farewell after graduation. It is an adjustment, that’s for darned sure!

  2. I too have been reading all the stories of folks sending their kids off to school and it has been entertaining, nostalgic and a bit illuminating as to how different it is today compared to when my daughter went off to school some 32 years ago. In fact, today is her birthday and that always brings back wonderful memories. She was never a great student, but, persevered and today is teaching pre-K kids and getting her degree as well. It is an exciting time for parents sending their babies off for the first time and soon those babies will be more and more independent and start the long slow process of leaving the nest. That’s really what those parental tears are all about, they don’t even realize that they are seeing the future.

  3. As one who teaches school, it is as stressful for us as it is for the kiddos. This my 17th year teaching and I still get nervous. I try to make everyone feel at ease – the parents and the kids, and me too! I am blessed to have a great class this year even at 31. God smiled on me this year! I wish everyone a happy, safe, and sane year. Thanks for all your sweet thoughts about school.

    • I have LOTS of teacher friends, so I know what you mean. They’re all in high gear right now 🙂

      You sound like you really love what you do- your students are lucky to have you!
      Thanks for stopping by, Shelly.

  4. The first day of school was a high holiday for me – of course, I was lucky enough to begin school back in the days when it was assumed you were there for the Three Rs and a little hygiene on the side!

    Yes, we had homework. Yes, we had other activities, like Blue Birds and 4-H and church groups. But we still rode our bicycles at night and never felt particularly pressured, except when laziness took over and that book report had to be finished on the night before it was due. And we had recess, and got to play dodgeball. No one ever died or got a concussion.

    I have a package of brand new number 2 pencils in my drawer. I just picked them up at Walgreens yesterday. I can’t help myself. It’s a vestige of my old pencil-box obsession – I buy them every year. I have given up on the protracter, 6″ ruler, square crumbly eraser, colored pencils, ink pen and points….

    I want to go back to school!

    • I wandered through the Walgreen’s Back to School aisle this afternoon. Bought a spiral notebook and a couple of pocket folders…those are my annual obsessions 🙂

  5. Even though I’m at the beginning stages of this, I can understand your feelings expressed in this post. I did my own share of shoving this week… and it was a new experience for me as a mom. I do not want to shove out of the nest, I want to hug and coddle and keep safe. But it helped that I knew I was sending my baby bird into the arms of a very good teacher. I got lucky this year. I know that may not be the case every year, so I’ll take this process one step at a time and keep looking out for my son’s best interests!

    And I’m glad your son eventually found a school that suited him best. Finding the right fit can be a challenge!

    • The teacher makes all the difference in the world. On the years when my son had teachers who “got” him, it was like a different world. It’s good if that can happen the first year! Gets them started on the right foot, at least 🙂

      I’m thinking about you these days – hope it’s all going well for the whole family!

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