Back-to-school time is always crazy for me and my family. My wife teaches, so August marks the beginning of the chaotic existence that is our life for the 10 months school is in session. Getting back into the routine of making lunches, coordinating schedules and staying up late for extended homework sessions does not come easily. We are weary.
In spite of this, I always like the sense of hope that the new school year brings. Even now I can remember the anxiety and anticipation of going back to school. Certain smells still transport me back — the smell of freshly polished wax on asbestos tiles, the smell of industrial detergent, paper and new plastic binders. They transport me to the fifth grade with Sister Anna, sitting in an aged wooden desk, my new uniform already full of chalk and pen marks.
I like the beginning of a new school year because it is a time of best intentions. More than New Year’s it offers a chance for new beginnings and fresh starts. The slate is, or at least should be, clean and the world offers a plethora of possibility.
Kids deserve that sense of possibility, and this annual renewal in late August serves them well.
We took the kids shopping for their school supplies. In my day, the list was short — pens, pencils, paper, binders and folders. The requirements for students today are expansive and frighteningly expensive. It took excursions to three stores to fill the list of 50-plus items needed for each child. Hundreds of dollars later, they felt adequately prepared and we felt adequately taken.
New clothes are part of the requirements as well. We are sending our oldest off to high school. It will be the first time she hasn’t had to wear a uniform and she is taking full advantage. I have spent far too many hours hovering in the aisles on the perimeter of the young women’s sections of department stores. I always feel like I am on display in the “pathetic dad’s” section.
I’m also not good with current fashion. For the most part, I’m a jeans and polo guy with little concern for labels or making any kind of statement short of “I’m boring.” I am boring, and that does not translate well when my daughters ask me to critique their outfits.
They know the answers already. The dress is too short, the jeans and shirts are too tight. My responses are not a reflection of any prudish tendencies but are simply a matter of taste. I am one of those who believe some parts of the anatomy are best left to the imagination and some parts shouldn’t be imagined at all.
My critiques reflect my tastes and still they continue to ask. I have stopped believing they want an honest answer, but I stubbornly refuse to tell a lie. The phrase, “It looks fine,” allows me to avoid a great deal of grief.
For parents, the start of school is also a bit foreboding. It represents another year past and another started. It is the next step toward that more permanent separation. I put those thoughts aside for now and revel in the hope and promise.
This time of best intention will be engulfed in the world of scholarly responsibilities soon enough. I plan to enjoy the promise of the new school year while I still can.