The Joy of Going Off to School
OUR youngest child recently started kindergarten. Ariel just turned 5 and has three teeth missing and another about to drop out. For years, she longingly watched as her two older siblings went off to school each morning, but when the time arrived for her, she showed all the proper ambivalence about this milestone. My wife is also starting kindergarten. This, too, is a milestone, since it is not only Lesley's return to teaching but to work outside of our home for the first time since the birth of our oldest child.Skip to next paragraph
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The starting day of school has always signified a big shift for us, since I, too, am a teacher. Since early in grade school, I have never not had a summer when the August ``back-to-school sale'' advertisements in the newspaper did not make me feel the excited anticipation of a new classroom and teachers and the melancholy of summer's end. By the time the ads appear, we English teachers have begun assembling the summer clippings from magazines and newspapers and mentally arranging new sequences of poems, stories, and novels to read. We have started thinking up new writing assignments and dreaming those last August teacher-dreams of decorating the room.
As an adult, I have continued to shop for new clothes before the start of school, just as I did as a sixth grader. New clothes are part of the ritual for the whole family this year. Lesley and the kids have gone shopping for new school outfits. Lesley also bought herself a new lesson-plan book, the surest sign of a teacher at the start of a new school year.
It has been charming to lead a professional life according to the rhythm of the academic calendar in which I grew up; we live according to an agrarian calendar amid post-industrial society. Each September, I start over: new students, new ideas, new materials. It's like opening day at the baseball park. The veterans return, a few rookies arrive, and everyone starts fresh both on their batting averages and on the team's pennant aspirations.
It has been a delight to watch each of my own children begin the journey through school, to follow them through successive opening days. But this September has a special, double rhythm of repetition and newness. Three of us are accustomed to this school cycle; the two who had waved us out the door are entering school for the first time. The fact that this is the year when all five of us join together in starting school means that family life has entered a new era. Our youngest child is no longer a preschooler.
Other back-to-school waymarks came right on time. Spencer and Hilary received postcards with their new class assignments. They promptly started calling friends to see where everyone else had been placed. Spencer was fairly nonplussed at the news. Hilary was involved. ``I don't want Mrs. Jones. Last year we could hear her yelling even when our overhead projector was on.'' It helped that two friends from last year would be in Mrs. Jones's class. We talked about giving Mrs. Jones a fresh start.
Ariel got her first postcard from a teacher. She would be one of Mrs. Gillespie's bears. And when Ariel visited her new classroom during an open house, she learned that her teacher was in fact a neighbor. I asked Ariel what she was looking forward to in her classroom. Not the climbing structure, not the sofas, not her cubby with the bear on it. Ariel wanted to play the xylophone and use the cash register - and see her friends from preschool.