In my house, we collectively dread the first day of school like the plague. Decades ago, I was the kindergartener (and first-grader) who refused to get on the bus, cried when my mom forced me to the door of the school, and fought the school security guard as he tried to pry my fingers from around my mother’s legs. It’s no wonder that the first day of school still holds strong emotions of doom for me.
Thankfully, my children have never had this, or any, level of separation anxiety. They dread the first day simply because it is the end of sleeping in and being lazy. In our family, we do not proactively plan for the day. We do not move bed times up to prepare ourselves. We shop for school supplies and clothes all in one (hellish) day, the day after Labor Day, because that is when the pool closes and we have nothing better to do. When the back-to-school advertisements rudely interrupt our blissful reverie in late July, my daughters shield their faces from the television and shout, “Noooo!”
That is why I am surprised by what a pleasant experience the first day actually was this year. Sure, the night’s sleep was fitful as I tossed and turned, dreaming repetitively that I hadn’t properly set my alarm. But we were all up and looking shockingly fresh before dawn. The teenage attitudes I endured all summer were missing. There was no name-calling over mirror-time in the bathroom or grumbling over who-was-wearing-whose-shoes. I haven’t seen these girls look this clean and chipper for months.
I almost forgot the requisite first-day-of-school photo, but luckily remembered and slammed on my brakes before I was out of eyeshot of our house, the annual backdrop. The camera-happy high-schooler hopped out of the minivan to oblige, but the middle-schooler required a bribe of a complimentary Dunkin’ Donuts run to cooperate. I had decided to drive my girls to school for the first time in my 11 years of public school-parenting thanks to the district moving the bus times so early that my girls would be devoid of an extra hour of sleep in an already too short night.
As we passed the bus stop, I warned the girls not to make eye contact with the kids standing there for fear they would want a ride, but then we saw one of my favorite high-schoolers standing on the side of the road in the dawn-light with her cello. We screeched a U-turn, she climbed in and I stifled my normal tendency to chat so that I could let the girls have the stage and be witness to their verbiage.
In the Dunkin’ line they were yelling out the windows at classmates. When they saw certain characters, I heard tales of inappropriate texting and high-school cheating scandals. We were dismayed at the length of the middle-school car line, but thrilled to see the beloved Mr. (Patrick) McGarry (middle school assistant principal), out there directing traffic like a pro. The parents who used to hog curb-space, or the ones that would linger until their child was well inside the school doors, are out of luck this year. He kept it efficient and moving as smoothly as possible. Thank you for small miracles and for Mr. McGarry!
As we moved on to the high school, we yielded to one of the monster trucks driven by teenage boys in the district, the one with the Confederate flags flying behind it. We saw the hooligan who was caught and disciplined for vandalism against a picnic table and the girls gave a huge shout-out to the school security officer, calling him some too-familiar nickname. We saw some girls strutting up the sidewalk to the school, the ones who date the bad boys and push the dress-code regulations to their limits.
As the girls hopped out, full of laughter and smiles, I was reminded how very similar life in 2016 is to the one I led in the 1980s. I was full of gratitude that my kids are somewhat typical, silly and sarcastic teenagers, living life in the American suburbs to the fullest.