Out There: School days

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.

School bags (photo credit: Melanie Lidman)
School bags
(photo credit: Melanie Lidman)
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 calendar.
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 grade”).
It’s all downhill from there. Well, at least the excitement wanes.
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 chet,” (“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 kids.
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 overuse.
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.
This parental 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 rough.
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 counselors.
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 nervously.
“We can’t put on a video; they’d go home and tell their parents.”
“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).
To watch 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.
That was 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.
Today I don’t look forward to back-to-school day.
In fact, I kind of regret it.
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 home.
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 The Wife.
“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.