The Beginning of Fall - Part One
The public schools in Mecklenberg County, North Carolina opened yesterday. Parents roused their sleepy children from their beds, encouraged them to put on newly purchased, freshly pressed outfits, and helped them hoist supply-filled backpacks onto tension-filled backs. School bus drivers were as lost as their young passengers were, baffled by new routes to new schools. “Learning cottages” (AKA “trailers”) filled school parking lots, soon to be filled with new students. Teachers checked over new lesson plans as they anticipated new educational adventures. Bouquets of newly sharpened pencils in new vases contained the seeds of creativity yet to be planted. In the words of my favorite commercially commandeered Christmas carol: it’s the most wonderful time of the year.
As a child, I was one of those rare children who always loved the start of the new academic year. I still do. At this time of year, I can frequently be found wandering the aisles of Target and Staples wistfully fondling the non-toxic glue sticks, turning ten packs of spiral notebooks over in my hands, and eyeing reams of college ruled composition paper. Two weeks ago, I purchased several eight packs of my favorite fine point pens, half a dozen decorated folders, and two boxes of the most colorful paper clips I’d ever seen. I don’t expect that we’ll need 200 paper clips during the course of this academic year, but if we do, we’ll have got them on hand. Even though there are only two students at The Silvermine Academy (AKA our homeschool), I can say with confidence that there are enough school supplies for ten times that number of hungry minds.
During my many years of formal education, those final days before the start of the new school year were days of quiet anticipation and careful assessment. I thumbed through new notebooks with their unmarked pages. I shined my new shoes with their unscuffed soles. I tried on my jeans with their untorn hems. I had an A in every subject and a perfect attendance record. All was well with the world; I was about to start school.
Here I am again at the beginning of the fall; only this time I am the teacher, the school is housed in our “bonus room,” and the only students are my own children. There are lessons for Kristiana and Daniel to learn on animal biology, American presidential history, Spanish language and geography, and the finer points of grammar and punctuation. There are lessons for me to learn on the biology of a marriage in its 15th year of existence. There are lessons for me to learn on the history of parenting a pre-teen daughter and football-playing son. There are lessons for me to learn in the nearly dead languages of forgiveness and love in a world where revenge and hate are spoken so fluently. And there are also lessons for me to learn on the finer points of submitting pieces to writing competitions even if I am never published or paid. There’s so much for all of us to learn this year.
At the beginning of the fall, we all have the same clean slate, the same empty notebooks, and the same opportunity to open our hearts and minds to the lessons that await us. What field trips must we take this year? Where will we go in our friendships, in our marriages, in our relationships with our parents and siblings? What great works of art will we gaze upon at the museum of modern family science? What monumental works will we create? How will we fare as we undertake new experiments in the lab of parenthood, of divorce, of new marriage? Will we put on our goggles, our heat resistant gloves, and take hold of these new test tubes with gusto and courage? Or will we shrink back and hope somebody else will extinguish the flames of failed past experiments? Will we reach out to the new kids in the lunchroom of life, the new neighbors on the block, and the new faces in the sanctuary, synagogue, or temple? Or will we keep our seat at the pre-determined table with other members of the in-crowd and leave the newbies to fend for themselves?
This is the most wonderful time of the year. Well, at least it can be. This is a wonderful time to find new recipes in old cookbooks. This is a wonderful time to reignite the fire of intellectual curiosity in my children. This is a wonderful time to encourage my husband to find new outlets for his creative energy. And this is a wonderful time for me to sharpen my pencils, my wit, and my mind for the year that lies ahead.
Today, at the beginning of the fall of 2005, I am turning to the first page of my new notebook, choosing an unused brightly colored new pencil, and getting ready to take copious notes on the lecture being given by the Master Teacher. I’d better go; I can’t be late to the first lecture.