Back to School

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Somewhere in the moments between July and August, there is a shift. It’s almost imperceptible, yet parents and children feel it. The laid-back vibe of summer becomes replaced with an anticipatory Back to School environment. It’s seasonal, cyclical, and unavoidable. “Back to School” sales explode in every medium like proverbial rabbits. Somewhere in the moments between August and September, school resumes, engaging entire populations in the annual ritual.

When my children were very young, this was a time of celebration. It was tradition that we hosted “Back to School” parties. Friends and family would gather for elaborate meals complete with cakes made to resemble school buses or chalkboard. The date of the first day was emblazoned with icing on top of the cake. New backpacks filled with colorful pencils, fresh boxes of crayons, and goofy character notebooks were set by the door. First Day outfits were carefully selected and laid out, next to an unblemished pair of shoes. Printed signs labelled with a name, grade, teacher, and school year were taped to the wall, ready for the child to hold in the obligatory photo. After a big breakfast, we would march to the bus stop, cameras, and supplies in hand. Calls of “Have a great day,” as the children boarded the bus were followed by waving parents as the bus drove out of sight. It was a special day.

As my children reached Middle School, the pre-first day party continued, although in a slightly altered manner. Elaborate meals were replaced with pizza and the chalkboard cake. Calculators and ipods joined the backpack ensemble. First day outfits were self-selected and sometimes vetoed. The printed signs were grudgingly held by preteens who managed a smile after several photos. Shoes were important. Memories of shoe shopping still haunt me. Requests not to accompany the children to the bus stop were honored, although I did threaten to join them still dressed in my jammies more than once. Calls of “Have a great day,” were often answered with “K, Mom.”  Alone at last, it was a special day.

High school brought a scaled down version of the Back to School party. It shrunk to the children and us. Pasta, or whatever we happened to prepare, was the cuisine du jour. Long gone were the school bus and chalkboard cakes. The annual photo was taken in the first few years, but have since faded. Car keys and cell phones were paired with with a single notebook and pen. Excitement still filled the air, but with a slightly different tone. “This is my last first day of high school.” Although a bit melancholy, it was a special day.

The past few years ushered in a change as my two older children went off to college. Back to school shopping included new bedding, lamps, and hampers, in addition to the classroom supplies. The Back to School party took on a new life with the extended family gathering together again to send off all our college students. Each year, my parents prepare huge dinners, complete with cake. We spend a night filled with laughter and reminiscing as we face this new phase together. Calls of “Have a great year” are met with hugs and “I love you, Mom.” It is a special day.

While I can hardly believe all these years have passed, I remember each and every celebration. My babies are growing up and becoming young adults. Somewhere along the line, a shift occurred. They are growing older, as am I. It’s seasonal, cyclical, and unavoidable, and each day is still special.

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