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Kathryn E. Livingston Headshot

Back To School No More

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This will be the first in 25 years that none of my kids are going "back to school." They're all out of college now, have jobs, and though one is thinking of going on for some further training, it hasn't happened yet. So while all you moms and dads out there are shopping for backpacks, sneakers and laptops, I'll be staying as far away from the malls as possible. Not to smirk, but on opening day of school, perhaps I'll drive to the beach and take a lovely, long walk.

As I watch the parents of my town scurrying in circles to prepare for the big event (this seems to start earlier and earlier each year, though in NJ we don't actually start school until after Labor Day) I can't help thinking back on the past 25 years of back to school shopping, prepping, and fretting. Worrying about whether my kids would like their teachers, whether the other kids in the class would be friends or trouble, racing around to sporting events and after-school play dates. It's a heady time... one friend once described it as riding along on her child's coattails (he is a talented musician and for more than a decade she drove him to concerts, rehearsals and lessons all over the map).

Those years were the best of times... and the worst of times. I remember the year one of my sons was given the "shyness" award in June by the elementary school's parent organization (the president told me on the phone when I called in a fit of horror that this was "cute"). Thankfully, I believe we've made some progress since then, but I'll never forget the hurt look on his face when he came home with that one. School can be heartbreaking and tough (and that was just at the hands of other parents).

Then there were all those bag lunches (not counting college and pre-school). Still, if I figure correctly, nearly 200 days of three boys' bagged lunches (give or take a lunch) for 20 years is... well... I don't even want to think about it! Naturally, it was an honor to prepare food for my children each day. But the morning I used up the last brown paper bag I believe I partied like the devil.

Transporting them... in rain, sleet, snow, hail (well, occasionally there were snow days) was another biggie. For 20 years or so, from pre-school to college (and because I work at home as a writer) I lived according to the timetable of the school bells. Naturally, I loved walking or driving my children to school. But after so many years... well, let's just say that the route can get a little dull.

Of course, at some point they could get to school on their own. And then there were the college years, which simply involved loading the van to the gills and driving into the sunset. College kids (my boys, anyway) didn't seem to care so much about having exactly the right backpack or jeans (especially after Freshman year). They basically just threw the contents of their drawers into the car a few hours before takeoff and that was it.

It's a relief in some ways not to have to deal with this stuff anymore. And yet, watching those cute little boys and girls whining at their moms to buy them the hot new whatever is hot these days makes me feel nostalgic. I kind of miss those school bells, the back to school nights, the homework, the band rehearsals, the rivalries, spats, endless bake sales, parent meetings, and the season of basically living in the mud on the football field (all my kids were in marching band).

And of course, too: the amazing teachers, the sweet friends of my kids who were always raiding my frig or sleeping over, the other moms on the ball fields, playgrounds and in the school yards, with whom I spent more time than my own sister whom I love dearly.

Talking to a mom on the phone today, however, knocked me back to my senses. "I'm just trying to get everything done this week," she gasped breathlessly. "The doctor and dentist appointments, the clothes and school supply shopping, the haircuts, the school forms..." and so on.

I breathed a sigh of grateful relief. I'm kinda glad that I've graduated!

Earlier on Huff/Post50:

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