For the first time in 17 years, I’m not buying school supplies. There’s no graphing calculator needed this year. We have long forgotten the new pack of Crayola 64, the big box with the pencil sharpener. No color-coordinated 1-inch notebooks, no extra-long twin bed sheets, no green and gold gym shorts.
I recently returned something to Bed Bath & Beyond, and I saw a young woman and her mother ahead of me in the checkout line. Both wore red and white Ball State University shirts. The daughter held a list, and mom pushed a cart full of the usual paraphernalia for college rookies.
The calendar of my life has revolved around later summer’s ringing school bells. My parents, both teachers, hyped going to school for weeks before I started kindergarten in 1962.
“When you are five,” my parents said, “you get to go to school.”
On my fifth birthday, six weeks before the official first day, I was utterly indignant that I had apparently been misled.
All dressed in my red gingham “first day of school dress” from Montgomery Ward, I threw an absolute fit. I’d been had. My father walked me to the nearby elementary school. Pointing to the parking lot, a row of empty bike racks and playground equipment, he said, “You can see there are no little boys and girls here.”
Somehow I felt cheated and duped, having to wait more than a month for this glorious, awe-inspiring event.
I retained the same enthusiasm for school every year, excitement about new friends, clothing, and activities about everything except the actual work. Isn’t enthusiasm a good part of the battle?
When our son started kindergarten, it was all I could do not to chase the bus around the corner. Could I follow the bus to Chandler Elementary School? How could this little boy navigate the hallways of a large elementary school? Half his day was spent with typically developing students, while the other half was spent in developmental kindergarten.
What would happen to him at lunch? Could he carry his own tray? I wanted to go to the school and stalk him during the day, but I was convinced the Chandler police would arrest me if I trespassed on school grounds.
Things got easier. By second grade, our son was in a classroom with typically developing students.
By high school, he was a pro and drove himself to school the last two years.
As most parents do, we took his first-day-of-school pictures by our front door. Looking back, I noted the increasing contempt in his expression. By the time he was a senior one could almost hear, “Mom, why do I have to do this again?” as he raced out the door for school.
Then came college. When we dropped our son off at college in the wicked city, I’m not sure who was more anxious, the new freshman or his parents. When it was time to go, our son walked us halfway to the parking garage and posed for a picture next to the front gate of his university. I lingered and hugged him again, and finally my husband said, “We really need to go.” He didn’t want to leave him either but he was strong, with a stiff upper lip.
We drove out of the city and west to Indiana, not speaking a word for hours until we got to the hotel. A few tears were shed that day.
The turmoil that accompanies each school year is a hassle. But like everything else in life, it is temporal and to be savored.
Now our son is in a different stage, and so are we, as freewheeling empty nesters. The house is quieter, and we are getting used to the solitude. We miss our son every day, yet he is happy with a full life of his own.
As corny as it sounds, I think about an old episode of The Andy Griffith Show where Opie raised abandoned baby birds and lets them fly free. Opie tells his dad he misses the birds. Andy notices the happy sounds of birds chirping and tells Opie, “My, how the trees are full.”
May you appreciate your baby birds and know the fullness of the trees.