Happy New School Year

I can’t remember a time when I didn’t look forward to buying school supplies.  As a kid I would wait anxiously for the “back-to-school” signs to popup in the stores and spend hours picking out the right colored folders and perfect pencils.  I couldn’t wait to get my hands on a new box of crayons or a smooth, flawless pink eraser and I would spend countless hours organizing my new school loot in preparation for the first day of school. With my school days long gone, I still find great joy in the school supply shopping excursion.  I love watching my children make their selections and rush home to put every piece carefully in their new backpacks.  Suddenly the excitement of summer is replaced by the anticipation of a new school year.

Although my kids may not feel new notebooks and highlighters are anything more than school supplies, to me they symbolize a new beginning—a chance to start with a clean slate so to speak.  For a brief moment I have forgotten all about the endless nights of arguing over homework, the fights with friends and the seven pairs of gloves lost during winter recess football games.  I find myself longing for filling lunch boxes with nutritious goodies and spending afternoons playing chauffeur to kids with ball practices and band programs.  “This is my year,” I say to myself in the mirror.  “This is my year to go from overwhelmed mother to school-mom extraordinaire.”

But, before long, the school year begins and the fresh, clean notebooks are soon tattered and torn.  The schedule gets hectic, the homework gets hard and my kids and I find ourselves longing for lazy weekend afternoons.  I guess that’s why I cherish those back-to-school shopping moments so much—they give me that rare opportunity to be able to fix all that is broken or achieve all that is hard by simply buying my child a Chicago Bears lunchbox or a Hollister backpack.  Nothing seems impossible with a good, sharpened pencil and a fresh pad of paper.

This school year we are embarking on a lot of new “firsts” for our family.  My daughter is spending her 8th grade year in a new middle school and is now joined by her brother who is starting 6th grade.  And, my youngest son is stepping into first grade without the comfort of his big brother and his fifth grade entourage.   As we sifted through folders and picked out backpacks I couldn’t help but relish in the thought that this could truly be “our year.”

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Better with Age?

It is one of those unbelievable cool July days—the kind where you begin thinking football and crackling leaves and find yourself surprised that you still have swim towels drying on the patio chairs.  I have decided to skip impending work projects and laundry folding and make my way to the sunlit patio to begin leafing through the plethora of magazines that have spent many a week lying on my family room floor.

“I wonder if I know anyone that has been to a ‘Botox Party’?”  I innocently ask out loud as I begin reading an article on the subject.

“What’s that?” Nate replies as he walks over to the patio and pulls up a chair.

“It’s a party where women go to have Botox injections.”  Nate’s expressionless face quickly tells me that my answer means absolutely nothing to his 11-year-old mind.  “They stick a needle in your wrinkles to make them smooth,” I add.

“Yuck, who would want to do that?”

“People who want to look younger.”

“Why would you ever want to be younger than you are?”  

Isn’t looking at the world through an 11-year-old’s eyes wonderful?  At 11, you can’t imagine anyone wanting to be younger—after all, with age comes great opportunities such as being able to ride your bike one more street over in the neighborhood or going to the movies with just your friends.  We mark our calendar for those age milestones such as turning 13, 16, 21—eagerly anticipating all the great things that the new age will let us do and the great person we will be able to become.  

Something happens to us—I’m guessing somewhere in our thirties—where age stops being something we look forward to and starts becoming something we dread.  We begin to see how precious time really is and how quickly it flies when we are preoccupied with kids, work and life in general.  And then, when we hit a major milestone (for me it was 40), we find ourselves frozen in fear—fearful that we may have nothing else to accomplish or to become.  This, we think, may be as good as it gets.

I reply, “Some people believe that getting older means they aren’t as good as they used to be, so they try to keep themselves looking young.”

“Are you as good as you used to be?”  

What is with this kid today?  I wasn’t prepared for such deep, introspective questioning from the boy whose conversations usually include some type of sports’ reference or sixth-grade boy humor.   

“Well, Nate, probably not,” I reply.  “But, I’m not really sad about it—at least I’m not sad enough to have a needle put into my forehead.”

“So, you don’t wish you were younger?”

“Not really, I kind of like life right where it is—not wishing it would move forward too fast or even move backwards.”  I stop for a moment and realize that I should probably take advantage of this rare serious discussion with Nate.  “You know what, Nate?  You should like life right where it is as well—not always wanting to be a few years older just so you can ride your bike to Dairy Queen with your friends.”

“Yeah, I’ll think about doing that as I watch the other guys come back with their ice cream cones,” he replies.  “Hey, what’s under there?”

“Under where?”

Nate laughs as he runs to the front yard yelling, “I just made you say ‘underwear.’”

It’s nice to see this serious side of Nate is no match for the funny side.  I kind of like him with a little dirt on his face, spitting sunflower seeds through a baseball dugout fence and sharing jokes with his friends about bodily functions and words deemed ‘inappropriate’ for casual conversations such as ‘underwear’ and ‘sports cups’.  

But, it’s always nice to see there is a little more to Nate than meets the eye—and with age, he will undoubtedly become better.  Don’t we all?