Watching the kindergarteners waiting at the bus stop, I am flooded with mixed emotions. Their post-summer haircuts, new sneakers, colorful backpacks and “happy-face” name tags, identifying them as new students, bring back many bittersweet memories. The children, filled with first day jitters, pose for photos and videos. The parents choke back tears, recognizing this as a major milestone of parenthood. They are amazed at how quickly the years have passed.
Fast forward 16 years, as I try to fathom how my son can possibly be a senior in college. Like those Kindergarten parents, I am filled with pride, witnessing how far my boy has come, yet wistful that the years have flown by in the blink of an eye. The juxtaposition of the first day of elementary school and the last year of college is not lost on me… hence, I pause to reflect on “back-to-school” and all it signifies.
For toddlers, back-to-school is mostly a time of fun and excitement (with the exception of those dealing with separation anxiety,) as children enjoy days of structured play with peers in a comfortable, safe environment. For parents, preschool is a welcome reprieve for several hours a day when they know their children are well supervised, fed and are learning basic, yet important, life skills.
The elementary and middle school years bring progressively more structure, responsibility and, of course, longer days for students. Back-to-school entails battling long lines at Staples where families stock up on school supplies like pocket fodders, notebooks, colored pencils, compasses and markers. First day photos at the bus stop begin to wane; indeed, many middle schoolers are embarrassed to have parents at the bus stop with them. Students begin to worry about which teachers they have, whether they have classes with their friends, and what outfits they will wear each day to school.
First day of school, September 2002
High school is an entirely new back-to-school experience. Family summer vacations are cut short to make way for pre-season fall sports and other extensive commitments which commence well before the first day of school. With our daughter’s soccer schedule, this entailed double sessions every day in sweltering August heat, intense workouts and an anxiety-ridden three days of tryouts. High school also demands heavier homework loads, a continuous stream of exams and college preparation. And, for parents, the stress of newly licensed teenage drivers who feel it is no longer “cool” to ride the school bus.
For college students, back-to-school means organizing, packing and driving (or, in our case, shipping) multiple suitcases, duffels and boxes to campus. Instead of buying basic school supplies at Staples, college dorm life now necessitates trips to Bed, Bath & Beyond and Target for everything from rugs and printers to book shelves and mini-refrigerators. (Gone, apparently, are the days of driving oneself to college with a suitcase, a milk crate filled with record albums and a few posters.) It also involves bidding farewell to the comforts of home, including healthy home-cooked meals, comfortable beds with clean sheets and plenty of space to relax. Once back at school, these young adults will resume their lives of independence, learning to schedule their own days and juggle priorities like classes, extracurriculars, jobs, meals, homework, sports and friends.
For empty nester parents like myself, back-to-school means the end of summer’s carefree spontaneity, outdoor concerts, barbecues and beaches and signals a return to a more predictable routine. I actually like routine so I don’t mind that part of it, although I am saddened as the days continue to grow shorter… plus, I can never figure out what shoes to wear this time of year. However, the upside is promising: minimal grocery shopping, less laundry, and no messy piles of clothing, wet towels and other random belongings spread throughout the house. Still, our quieter home always takes some getting used to each fall.
As my son begins his senior year of college– our final back-to-school experience– I cannot help but reflect back on his first day of Kindergarten, as we waited with our neighbors for the yellow school bus. While this was in the days before social media, I still remember capturing those Kodak moments and tearing up as the bus pulled away with my little boy aboard. All the children at the bus stop that day, including our son, have grown into confident, self-possessed young adults, ready to take on the world. And to think it all began 16 years ago at the corner of Fox Ridge Road and Fox Ridge Court.
First Day of School 2001
So, back to school we go– one final time…