Back to school time is looming again. I can tell because I just saw Halloween decorations for sale while on a local shopping trip. But, if we were to go by what we see in the store, we would have thought that back-to-school was happening some time around the Fourth of July.
Merchants may be rushing us along, and notebooks and pencils may have been purchased a month ago, but to a kid, back-to-school doesn’t officially begin until the morning the alarm clock rings at an insanely early hour and the backpack is loaded and firmly in place.
Kids know how to hang on to summer until the very last minute. In fact, I remember back when I was in grade school, summer vacation seemed to stretch out in front of us like a happy beach blanket with no end in sight. Every summer day held a rhythm of lemonade stands, bicycles, roller skates and popsicles. Sidewalk chalk festooned the driveways and sidewalks, and many lazy hours were spent doing nothing but laying on the grass, making dandelion wreaths and gazing at the puffy clouds in a periwinkle sky.
Except for that one summer, when a neighboring mom may have had enough of our hedonistic ways. She told us to go tell our mothers that there were only 30 days left until the first day of school.
She probably didn’t mean to be cruel. But her words were like a sudden, frozen dagger in our hearts. I swear the sun scurried behind a big, dark cloud and there may have been a little bit of ominous thunder behind the trees. Our riotous, decadent holiday had an end date. It was like all the air went out of a hundred party balloons all at once.
We tried hard to gather up our joie de vivre. We boondoggled, and swung on the rope swings at the playground. We hopscotched, and played freeze tag and hide-and-seek. But the sun was a little dimmer in the sky, and the mood, a touch more somber.
That dreaded first day of school loomed menacingly on the horizon and no amount of free-spirited play could make it go away.
Well, as it always does, time passed. We went school shopping, and got new sneakers and crayons. One morning, we were awakened very early, and steaming bowls of oatmeal were placed in front of our sleepy faces. After a summer of popsicles for breakfast, this was a sad state of affairs, indeed.
We huddled at the bus stop loaded down by book bags, and our own mortality. And then, just like that, we were swept away in a school bus, like so many fall leaves, and deposited for our first day in a new grade.
Of course, it was fun to meet new kids and teachers, and to have a little structure and interesting things to learn. The summer faded away, looking back over its shoulder at us, sadly waving good-bye. I don’t think we noticed. There was so much to learn and too much to do. Besides, there would be another summer waiting for us…next year.