Volume 18 • Issue 16 | September 09 - 15, 2005

Back to School

This time around, I’m enjoying school a lot more

By Jane Flanagan

I was sitting at a Connecticut lake a few weeks ago taking in a gorgeous moment. It was late August, a cool 72 degrees and it felt like early fall. My 7-year-old son, Rusty, was busy digging in the sand, oblivious to what was in the air.

But I wasn’t. I knew what was coming: [ital] school.[unital] When I was a kid I started feeling really depressed this time of year. Just the site of a pencil case could spark a sense of dread. Then there were those “Back to School” commercials with kids who, for some bizarre reason, were always smiling.

Yes, growing up I never cared for school. It’s astonishing to think of it now, but it wasn’t until I got to college that I discovered how much I enjoy learning. In all the years leading up to it, I only recall one, possibly two, teachers who sparked my imagination, but they were brief blips in a sea of rote learning and vague, often meaningless, concepts. I rarely seemed to connect anything I was learning at school to my life or the world at large.

But I’m a mom now and so I’m getting another crack. My son is starting first grade this week and I get to come along for the ride. And while he may still be focused on sand pits and bike riding, I’m wondering what this year will be like. If last year is any indication, I’m going to like first grade a whole lot better this time around.

For last year my rambunctious son started out at his new school by saying that he hated being indoors all day. “Oh no,” I remember thinking, “This is not boding well. He has no idea!” But, unbelievably, it wasn’t long before he stopped complaining about being cooped up and started talking about worms and recycling.

Soon he was peering in the kitchen trash to scout out wayward aluminum cans. “This shouldn’t be here, Mom,” he said, pulling out a goopy Progresso beef barley soup can. “We have to take care of Mother Earth!” This summer watching me dig in the garden he spotted my shovel too close to a familiar wriggling creature. “Be careful, Mom! Worms are good for the soil.”

I realize this may sound corny, but this has me recalling the lyrics of a song, well, from a corny musical, “The Sound of Music.” (I loved that movie as a kid and inexplicably think I like it even more now). The song is and the lyric is “Somewhere in my youth I must have done something good.” Maria’s point is that out of that — she has found the dream man in her life. But for me, it resonates for my kid, my school and me. Somewhere in my miserable, wretched school days, I must have done something good. Because buddy look at you now.

And while I’m marveling at how easily he is transferring school knowledge to the kitchen and backyard, I’m also learning about him. Most of what he’s talking about falls under the subject headings that once sent shivers through me, “Math and Science.” The fact that anyone could have this much fun with them is a revelation to me.

But the highlight of the entire school year was his endangered animal. All the children were assigned an animal and his was a cheetah. Soon he was drawing the yellow-orange creature all the time. So when the time came to draw it on the special T-shirt they were making, he drew an impressive rendering. He insisted we look up the cheetah on the computer and wanted to know which of the 20-odd cheetah drawings we most liked and wanted for the office.

But I’m still nervous anticipating first grade. It’s when the work of reading and writing will begin in earnest. My nervousness is not unwarranted. This summer we were supposed to have Rusty read on his own some (it never happened), to practice some math (likewise), and other things I no longer remember that we never did.

So we may have some challenges ahead. Yet somehow the “Back to School” LL Bean and Lands’ End catalogues with the be-backpacked kids that seem to be arriving daily are not making me feel blue. I’m too busy wondering what this year’s endangered animal will be.


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