Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Back-to-school, 2012

As I keep reminding myself, I’m not going back to school. They are.

And if they don’t seem concerned about it, I needn’t be either.

If they’re not lying awake at night thinking about it, there’s no reason for me to be.
My kids have never yet had a bad year of school, so on the face of it, there’s no reason for me to worry. But instead of thinking “Will this or that unpleasant thing happen to them again?”, it’s the opposite: I worry “Will this be the year? Other parents tell me of teachers their children didn’t get along with, terrible homework burdens, difficult relationships with other kids, unfair run-ins with the administration. I never have similar stories with which to counter. So I can’t help wondering: is our number up? Will this be the year?
But so far, no. Minor heartaches typical of preadolescence for Tim; minor inexplicable misunderstandings with friends for Holly, last year. But nothing so challenging that it kept any of us awake at night.
So I tell myself now is not the time to start worrying. The kids feel just fine about going off to school today. Yesterday they rummaged through their newly purchased school supplies to check off each item on the prescribed list and fit it into their backpacks (an old one for Tim, which he’s had – and loved – since fifth grade; a new one for Holly, brown with bright pink polka dots), and after dinner last night, at my insistence, they even packed up their own lunches: stuffing and leftover steak for Tim, yogurt and Pirate’s Bootie and cheese slices for Holly. Seltzer bottles for each.
Neither of them gave much thought about what to wear today. I remember tremendous excitement over first-day-of-school outfits from my own childhood, and judging from the photos my friends have been posting today, the tradition still holds true among many families, but my kids can’t be bothered. Holly chose a clean and neat but unspectacular outfit that she used to wear a lot last spring. Tim appeared in a familiar Hershey’s Park t-shirt that he wore more days than not last year. Long ago, we had a rule about no t-shirts with words on them for the first day of school, but it’s one of those things that just stopped seeming so important after a while.
This is Tim’s last year of middle school, and it’s also the last year he’ll attend a school with which I’m familiar. I attended his current school from kindergarten through eighth grade myself, just as he is; but next year he’ll go off to the public high school, whereas I attended private school after eighth grade. So next year I’ll be even more anxious about the unknowns, though Tim will probably once again be the picture of complacency.
I remind myself that they are in clean clothes, they know how to find their homerooms, they’ve packed nutritious lunches, and they have a full set of school supplies; there’s not much else I could have done this morning to send them off prepared. In an essay about parental involvement at schools in Sunday’s New York Times, Bruce Feiler attributed Dan Levin, a founder of a charter school network that runs 125 schools across the country, with saying, "If [a] kid is coming well rested to school, with his homework done on time, and is behaving well, the parents are doing their job."
Well, I know my kids are well-rested; they weren’t lying awake last night while I was. And they’re usually fairly reliable on the other two points as well. And so. Good for them not to be anxious, and silly for me to be. It’s a new school year, and I’ll just trust and hope that it will be as good as all the ones that preceded it.

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