Saturday, August 18, 2007

Back to the School of Our Dreams

I think back-to-school time is a bit like Christmas. The very phrase "back to school" triggers a bout of nostalgia for so many of us--and mostly it's a nostalgia for something that never really existed. Yes, we all went back to school, but how many of us walked there kicking through piles of red and yellow leaves, the air slightly chilled and autumnal, our brand new shoes shining in the morning light?

Okay, maybe you did, but not me, baby. Having spent a lot of my growing-up time in Virginia, the first days of school I experienced were hot and muggy. I did walk to school through third grade, and I did wear new Mary Janes and knee high socks (this was in the early '70s), but summer was a long ways from being over. There were no leaves on the sidewalk, and the air was not crisp with the promise of fall.

So when nostalgia wells up in me, it is not for the humid Virginia mornings I dragged myself through to the squat, pink-bricked school that was Kings Park Elementary, but for a 1950's New England scene that I never actually experienced--in the same way that I've never experienced a Victorian Christmas straight out of Dickens, and yet that's what I start pining for around December 12th.

Fine Young Son No. 1 starts third grade next Tuesday, August 21st. We are told temperatures should be hovering in the mid-nineties. Talk about crisp and autumnal! And because it's the 21st century, he will wear pretty much what he's worn all summer, shorts and tee shirts. He'll wear tennis shoes instead of sandals, and because we don't buy him new tennis shoes until he absolutely needs them (otherwise we'd go broke), he will not be trotting into room 207 in shiny new footwear.

He will have new school supplies, but they will be arriving in the same backpack he's been carrying since preschool. It is a red Gap backpack and there's a small hole in the bottom so that pencils fall out fairly easily. I've offered every year for the last two years to buy him a new one, but he is attached to this one. If he ends up carrying it through high school graduation, I for one will not be surprised.

Moreover, he will be bringing lunch in the same Scooby Doo lunch box (The Mystery Machine) that's he's had since the spring of first grade. I offered to buy him a new one, but no. The old one will do just fine.

He has been this way all his life. No changes, thank you very much. We moved to a new house in May, and I'm amazed we convinced him to come along. I think he would have been perfectly happy if we'd let him rent the old one from us.

Fine Young Son no. 1 neither walks to school nor takes the bus. He is driven. (This year the big excitement is we've been asked to join a car pool, and it looks like I'll be doing more picking up than dropping off--which is to say I can finally live out my dream of waving my child off to school while still in my PJs). So when he's an adult and is hit by a wave of back-to-school nostalgia, he'll probably envision the inside of a minivan ... which is driving through a crisp, New England fall morning toward a red brick school house, and all the kids are playing kickball, and everyone is happy forever.

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