A part of me dies each year when my sons go back to school but don’t worry – that same part rises again as a ghoul when they come home for summer vacation.
That’s the bipolarity of it. I’m crushed to see them go; I’m bamboozled when their summer vacation starts and with it, a chorus of velociraptor shrieks to haunt all my phone interviews.
To cope with the fall blues, I imagine what those children are doing at school while I’m working at home. Sometimes I reminisce about my own days at school two decades ago, and how good it was for my little velociraptor hands to learn cursive.
That was then, this is now.
The twins are in third grade but in separate classes because their school says it’s better this way. They still can meet up at lunch, sample each other’s sandwiches and reassure the other students that that’s normal, because, “we have the same DNA.”
They’re learning mathematical division with M&Ms. They play sharks and minnows in P.E. The little, feisty twin hates speed math, which has nothing to do with energizing drugs and everything to do with solving math problems as fast as you can while waiting for the inevitable buzzer to give you a heart attack.
The big, sweet twin loves speed math, books about sentient crayons and high-fiving his teacher.
In third grade I had a sturdy ageless teacher who wore floor-length denim skirts and quoted the U.S. Constitution from memory. I wish I could remember her name: she lives in my memory as an iconic Missus or Madame. She was a grammarian, a puritan, a patriot and traditionalist.
I learned many small essential skills from her, but it’s the lesson she didn’t mean to impart that has lodged in me like a cheesecake. And that is: you’re never smarter than History itself, and you’re never wrong in being humble.
My middle-born son is in fifth grade, in a school with lockers and subject periods just like high school – because the school board in Riverton a few years ago was like, “Ah what the heck. Let’s do it this way.”
Some of his teachers on the first day of school launched presentations about who they are outside class.
The science teacher has three doctoral degrees, a sprawling farm, a parachute factory and dreadlocks, according to Middleborn.
“Three doctorates, are you sure?” I asked.
“Yup,” nodded Middleborn. “And my other teacher is a karate black-belt.”
“Oh. Wonder where he learned that,” I mused.
“Teacher school,” said Middleborn, casually wiping his nose on his new jacket.
In fifth grade I had two sassy female teachers who snuck my written work off to the newspaper’s longtime editor. That same editor then made me the paper’s official kid-columnist. It was a special year.
I wrote, um, precious columns such as “why my favorite color is pink,” or “my baby sister is the coolest thing ever.” The newspaper paid me $10 per piece.
Fifth grade for me was the year I found something to be good at – so everything else fell in line to enhance that skill. If you can find just one thing at which you excel; if you can marry hard work to passion, empathy to obsession, you can view the world from a height of purpose.
Go, Middleborn – go.
My first-born son is starting seventh grade. Heaven help us.
His feet are bigger than mine, his shoulders are broader. He’s got a good pack of friends with frank mischief in their smiles and devoted mothers in the backs of their minds.
Firstborn is also in band.
Band class is a key experience of youth, if you can swing it. Nowhere else in life can 60 amateur musicians spew a hellish cacophony without judgment for weeks on end until – in one startling epiphany – the whole melody comes together. The song provokes real, aching, human emotion. And it hits all 60 preteens in their plastic chairs at once.
Firstborn, even though you’re hungry, moody and trying weird stunts for female attention, don’t forget to savor that miracle, and others like it – no matter what grade you’re in.