Years ago, when the kids were young and small, September 1 – then the country’s
traditional back-to-school day – was a red-letter day on our
For the kids, the first day of school was always thrilling,
especially that ascendancy to first grade, joining the big kids in a big school.
It was a lovely first rite of passage, one made even lovelier here where
everyone – from the prime minister to the most cynical anchor on one of the
television news shows – makes a big deal of it, and chirps those three,
ever-hopeful Hebrew words: “Shalom kita aleph,” (“Hello first
It’s all downhill from there. Well, at least the excitement
Entering second grade, third grade, fourth grade and onward is
never as big an event as that first step into first grade. No prime minister
ever went to the cabinet and opened the weekly meeting by saying, “Shalom kita
,” (“Hello eighth grade”).
Why? Because eighth-graders are a lot less
cute and bug-eyed than their first-grade siblings. Seventh grade and ninth grade
are big deals, because they mark the transition into intermediary school and
into high school, but nothing approximates grade one.
For the parents, the day the kids go back to school never loses its
excitement, and not necessarily because the offspring are off to enrich their
knowledge and gain real-world preparation. No, the day they run off to class is
one most parents long for as the summer wears on, ideas on how to entertain the
kids run low, money allocated for said entertainment runs out, the heat gets
progressively worse, and the computer and television overheat from
THIS PARENTAL excitement does not wane at all as the kids glide
from grade to grade. The end of summer vacation for an eighth-grader is no less
exciting for a parent than ending summer vacation for a first-grader. In fact,
it might be even more exciting, because the eighth-grader is probably more
difficult to deal with at home during summer recess.
yearning for back-to-school day also brings with it a bout of serious guilt.
Should I really be yearning for the day the kids go back to school? What does
that say about me as a parent? Shouldn’t I want them home, to be around them, to
savor each passing moment of their growing up? Sure you should. But you don’t,
because – let’s face it – those two-and-a-half months of summer vacation are
Well do I remember when The Wife and I needed to come up with
creative ideas on how to entertain the kids. Since day camps were prohibitively
expensive, parents in our neighborhood grouped together to form a “parents
camp.” Each morning a different mother or father would be responsible for a
group of 10 kids. That meant once every two weeks we were camp
I LOVED sending the kids to other parents, but – clearly –
loved it less when they descended upon us. Once, fresh out of ideas (The Wife
and I had already taken them to the local fire department and park on previous
mornings), the kids were in our home with an hour left, and already bored with
“Herzl omer” (Simon Says).
“What are we going to do,” The Wife said
“We can’t put on a video; they’d go home and tell their
“Let’s make coffee,” I replied.
Though at first
skeptical – if the other parents frowned upon television, how were they going to
take our serving their eight-year-old's coffee – she softened when I explained
that we weren’t going to make them double espressos, but rather kill time by
demonstrating the art of coffee preparation.
“Think of it as a science
experiment,” I said.
And so we did. We gathered all around the table and
measured the beans (that took five minutes), and took out an atlas to look up
Colombia, where the beans came from. We then ground them up in a little coffee
grinder, a big thrill for the little ones, with all that noise and those
whirling blades. Then we had them inhale the aroma, watch the water boil, and
finally – climatically – poured the water over the coffee we placed in a French
press (not before, of course, explaining French press dynamics).
the look on their little faces at the end of the process as I sipped a cup of joe was a joy to behold. And the best part – it killed the hour.
summer vacation then.
TODAY IT is so different. Indeed, the manner in
which the end of summer vacation loses its luster and excitement over time is as
much a sign of aging as receding hair lines and creaking joints.
don’t look forward to back-to-school day.
In fact, I kind of regret
I regret it on two levels. First, because I no longer have small
children thrilled by the purchase of a new pencil holder or notebook in
preparation for the big day back. It’s bittersweet watching all those cute
little kids scampering off to their classrooms, knowing those days – when my
kids were among the scamperers – are gone forever.
I also regret it
because it means my house will empty out.
For most of this summer, The
Wife and I had all our four kids – the 11th-grader as well as his three siblings
in various post high-school, national service and army frameworks – living at
The food bill was high, there was a lot of laundry, it was loud,
and the lights were always on because they all kept nutty hours. But the house
was alive and active and full of energy. And I didn’t have to entertain or keep
anybody busy; they all mastered that themselves.
But back-to-school day
signaled an end to that.
The 11th-grader trudged back to his boarding
school, and the three others all went off to different programs that started at
about the same time.
Which meant the house emptied, leaving just me and
“Good thing we still get along,” The Wife quipped as we waved
to the youngest going out the door.
“Good thing,” I agreed. And if we
ever run out of what to do, I thought, we can always make coffee.