Back to School

It’s that time of year again…back to school! Millions of kids all over the country are feeling apprehensive, excited, nervous, and keyed up over starting new classes, meeting new teachers, and seeing all their friends again. My kids are no exception. Two of them are starting new schools (high school and middle school), and the third is starting the downhill journey to the end of high school.

Millions of parents all over the country are feeling apprehensive, excited, nervous, and keyed up, too, but for different reasons. They’re thinking the same things that parents think every year: where did the summer go? Will the kids like their teachers? How can school supplies cost so much?

I have mixed feelings when the kids go back to school. Part of me is glad to get my schedule back; I can work in silence and get a lot more writing done. The house is finally clean. But I always end up wishing we had done more over the summer. I wish we had taken that bike trip to Delaware and I wish we had gone to the botanical garden that’s nearby. We’re still planning on going to both those places, but it will be in the fall. And the fall calendar is already filling up quickly.

This year has me thinking about back-to-schools of the past. I know I’m revealing my age here, but I remember when school shopping was done once a year, in August. Our family would pile into the car and drive 75 miles to the nearest shopping mall for a very long day of picking out the clothes that would take us through the school year. Corduroys? Check. Blouses? Check. Jacket for spring and fall? Check. Dress? Check. We got shoes, too, and an ice cream cone if we were good. And we weren’t alone. Families everywhere were making that same trip, buying clothes and shoes that would last the kids all year, and getting ice cream as a reward for behaving.

There was always something very exciting about getting school supplies, too. But back then school supplies were very different from the ones we buy today. We needed notebooks and folders back then, plus one blue pen, one black pen, and a few pencils. Some kids even got Trapper Keepers. Now we need nylon book covers (remember when book covers were made at home out of paper bags? We could decorate them however we wanted!), folders in five different colors, six glue sticks no matter what grade the child is in, 4 packs of Post-It notes, binders varying in size from 1/2 inch to 2 inches depending upon the class, a flash drive, an obscenely expensive calculator, crayons, colored markers, colored pencils, composition notebooks, and an exhaustive arm-length list of a gazillion other things that we never used to need. I’ll never forget the year my son had to send in 96 sharpened pencils on the first day of school.

Really? 96?

And school is different now, too. Very different. Just today my oldest child was telling me that the hardest part of the PSAT she took last year was writing the no-cheating pledge in cursive. She said the kids needed extra time to write the pledge because none of them knew cursive writing. I think that’s a shame, because cursive writing is so much more beautiful than printing in the hands of someone who knows how to do it correctly. And the stuff my kids are reading in English? I read some of it and it makes my blood run cold. Whatever happened to Charles Dickens? Whatever happened to Thomas Hardy? Right now my daughter is in the dining room reading a story that has a horrific amount of violence in it, a book that is required reading for AP English. I don’t know how she’s able to get through it. She reads passages to me and they make me sick.

But kids are learning so much more than I used to learn in school, too. One of my kids is taking a class in art appreciation this year. That wasn’t an option for me until I went to college. And two of them will be taking their standardized state tests online this year, if I understand it correctly. My girls are taking classes that were never available to me in high school, and they know so much more than I did at their ages. I’m very impressed. My son, too, is much further ahead of where I was in sixth grade. He knows more about computers than I’ll ever know. I was a senior in high school when I first tried coding, and I’ve not done any since then. I have a feeling he’ll be writing computer code before he finishes middle school.

So back-to-school is bittersweet. It reminds me every year that time marches on whether I’m ready for it or not, and that things are always changing. Sometimes the change is for the better, sometimes not. And someday my own kids will reminisce about their back-to-school days with a mixture of happiness and sadness, just like me.