2016-08-17 / Columns

Missing the back-to-school frenzy that was so much a part of life


I can’t believe I’m thinking this, let alone sharing it with all of you. But here it is: I actually miss the back-to-school frenzy that I was once a part of—and didn’t enjoy at all.

I actually miss the frenzied trips to every store in the tri-county region that carried jeans, and I certainly remember the dressing room dramas with three little girls who suddenly needed to have only one very specific cut of jeans. Nothing else would do.

I also will never forget the consequences of a back-to-school haircut gone awry. “NOT for the first day of school!” would be the Shakespearean lament of one daughter or another.

No, I certainly didn’t think I’d miss any of it.

But in this season, just going out into the world means encountering kids who are deciding their very destinies at the jammed school supply areas where everything is shiny and new.

I look at those parents, already seeming slightly bedraggled, and overwhelmed themselves, and of course I think back to those years.

“Been there, done that,” I want to tell them. “And I envy you…”

I know that in the midst of back-to-school season, they might not understand why my husband and I now do envy them.

We both agree that the school years when all three kids were at home were undeniably the best years. Sure, chaos reigned. Kitchen table meals were punctuated by loud interruptions, terrible jokes, and peals of laughter. But it was as wonderful as it was noisy.

Sadly, those years flew by. One by one, our girls left us just as we were getting to enjoy these new young adults with ideas, opinions, and yes, wisdom.

Each departure unalterably altered the domestic landscape, and then suddenly, it was just two people sitting at the kitchen table wondering whether we’d actually hear from our collegians back when phones were the communication instrument of choice.

Sometimes, those calls were few and far between. Other times, they were uncomfortably frequent not because everything was so fine, but because it wasn’t.

In that era, we were politely told that no, they would get their supplies on campus, and that they would shop for clothes on their own if they could possibly, pretty please, have the car for a few hours.

Those were the rehearsal hall years for a new stage of back-to-school, one that left parents out. It was all perfectly right and appropriate. But that didn’t make it feel any less weird.

“And the seasons they go round and round,” as that old song suggests. Now, there are grandchildren for whom late summer means those almost unchanged fall rituals: The clothes, the notebooks, and now, of course, the tech toys necessary for school survival.

Last year, Carly, the youngest of the flock, did permit me to help her find a certain shirt that was—well, essential to her 12- year-old wellbeing. We left three stores empty-handed, but triumphed in the fourth. I think I was more jubilant than she was.

Danny—funny, loveable Danny—is trying for nonchalance about starting high school. But on a recent walk on the beach with me, he did say something tinged with anxiety about facing the super-tough language arts teacher who teaches freshmen.

Of course what Danny isn’t saying is that he’s worried about what high school will be like, and whether he’ll find his place there.

Yes, I’m two generations removed now from the immediacy of back-to-school. I’m far from the bull’s-eye.

But that doesn’t mean that come some early September morning, I won’t be thinking of our own young scholars, and what this year may bring.

I’ll try to balance my slight anxiety about new beginnings with common sense.

And I’ll even get used to the astounding idea that our oldest granddaughter Hannah, newly minted college graduate, will be beginning her very first non-student job in the city that never sleeps: New York, New York.

Wasn’t it only yesterday that she marched off to kindergarten, trying to look brave in her crisp fall attire and brand new shoes?

This year, a subway will deliver her to her new job, and no weepy parents will be there to hug her goodbye.

But it’s time.

And as so many of us of a certain age have learned, there’s just no stopping it.


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