Sweet Memories of Back to School

This essay is from the archives; I wrote it in 1998 about my oldest son, Forrest, now an honor student at Portland State, studying Russian and history. We home schooled from 2nd through 7th grades. I hope he learned half as much as I did.

In early August the memories start floating back into my mind, memories as crisp and colorful as mid-summer itself. It was in early August that I started looking forward to going back to school. Actually, what I really started doing was living just to go back to school. I was sure that this year would be perfect! In two months nostalgia had swept in and allowed only sweet memories of the small parochial school in historic downtown Grass Valley. I saw the shiny hardwood hallways and the clean rows of desks and well–I just couldn’t wait to go back. If I were lucky I needed a new uniform skirt in addition to a new year’s worth of white JC Penney blouses. Of course I needed knee socks and underwear. I stared at the catalog for hours. At my Catholic school there was always a month’s grace period before uniforms were required; if I were truly blessed my mother might throw a new church and school dress into the mix.

My father would take me shopping for new shoes and school supplies. I’d choose my binder and paper–always college ruled–and of course a new ziploc pouch for pens, compass, six inch ruler. I’d practice in the mirror–which way did I want to wear my long red hair? Pony tail braids? Just down? Simple barrette off to the side?

Looking back, it’s strange that I liked school at all. I had hardly any friends, and those few I had were, like me, regularly and mercilessly pummeled by the school’s elite and powerful. My daydreamer’s personality saw to it that I earned B’s instead of A’s, which in turn earned me intense anxiety at report card and conference time, and then, moments later, the consternation of my father, who’d already raised three A students. Looking back, it seems I should have hated the whole deal. But I didn’t. The kids, the grades, the nuns that were pretty mean–none of them mattered. It was school that I loved. The entity. The concept.

When my son was finishing first grade he told me he’d like me to home school him. I’d been asking him if I could since kindergarten, but this was his first glimmer of interest. It was an agonizing decision for him, because he liked public school. He had lots of friends and did well academically. But he said he’d like more time with me. I understood that; I felt like I’d hardly laid eyes on him since our wonderful lazy mornings before afternoon kindergarten. I had a baby that summer, and his second grade year was filled with 9 A.M. pancake breakfasts, long read alouds and walks, and most of all a new infant that, by year’s end, was almost a toddler. I saw him fuse with his baby brother in a way he never would have if I had chauffeured him to school each day. He wants to home school again this year, and half way through the year we’ll have another baby to share our winter home school days. Family life has become part of his education.

I know one of these years he’ll want to go back to school. When he does I know he’ll do just fine. He’s academically on track and–yes–in spite of the common criticism of home schooling–he’s well socialized. What is interesting to me is that when he does return it will be with the same frame of mind I found myself in each August. He’ll be excited. He’ll want to be in that place called school. But he’ll even feel something more than I felt, and this is where he’s really lucky. He’ll be a volunteer. He’ll be choosing to go to school just as he will someday choose a college. His binder will be organized and under his arm. The little ones and I will wave to him from the car, watching him carry years of being with us into the building with him.

1998

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