Can you hear the groans? Can you sense the nerves on end? Can you smell the aroma of new tennis shoes, new shirts, and new backpacks? Here in the northland, they are all harbingers of a change in the season – at least for Fargo, as across the city, mothers (and some fathers) are in the process of waking up their young wards, fixing a good hearty breakfast, and preparing to send them off to a new year of school.
I always liked the first day of school. Sure, I loved every lazy, wide-open day of summer vacation, where life never moved out of second gear – but at the end of August, as the morning temperatures moved from waking up to 75 degrees, to, for instance, this morning it being 55 degrees, it just always seemed as though it was time to move from flip flops to tennis shoes, and to learn again how to hold a pencil, and enjoy a completely different menu for lunch, courtesy of the school cafeteria. Even when we brought our own, in brand new lunch boxes with the Thermos full of probably milk, with a banana inside the box that made every thing taste like a banana, it was still sort of magical, and full of anticipation.
Most of my elementary years were spent at Shaw Elementary, where every kid on the base went to school. There were no such things as buses or moms dropping us off, unless it were pouring rain. Even the first day of school meant a nice morning walk through the neighborhood, and then waiting outside school doors until our teacher came and escorted us to our rooms. This wasn’t for security reasons – I think they just didn’t want kids messing around in the halls, getting into trouble before class even started.
In elementary school, the teacher was truly the tsar of the class. Sharpening pencils, going to the bathroom, or being let out for recess all happened at the hands of the benevolent leader. We would move from writing and spelling to math to reading to whatever else she had in mind like the hands of a well-precisioned clock. The only times things went out of whack was when someone threw up in class, or for some reason, we all slid into a time of just talking in class, which precipitated extra work – “since you all must not have enough to do…”
First day of high school was a bit different. We of course moved from room to room, stopping at lockers and wasting as much time as we could. High school was also full of so many different extra-curricular activities, developed probably so you could meet the cute girls that were in your class on a social basis. Whereas elementary school was an organized, lock step day schedule, high school was a time of educational chaos.
When we got older, and graduated, and got married and had our own kids, it was amazing how very different their school age experience was from ours. First off, if there were lunch boxes, they were formed out of plastic instead of pressed sheet metal, which meant when you swung them around, and they accidentally hit a classmate on the forehead, it barely left a welt. School clothes, especially tennis shoes, were way more expensive than we had. And the teachers seemed to all think they were experts in child psychology, and small child motivation, and doing math in a really dumb system. Still, our boys went through school happy, making friends, telling stories about events of the day, and bringing home Scholastic book order forms, which were under the guise of extended learning, but when you are buying a book of 100 jokes, it’s hard to see education in action…
Yet, what never changed was that moment, just before getting in the car, where on that first day, the boys would stand, backpacks strapped on, glasses clean, and with smiles that hid the underlying bit of nervousness about starting a new year, and the first day of school picture would be taken, and then off we would go, sending them beyond our arms, beyond our wisdom, and into the public school system, for good or ill.
The last “first day of school” in our family was in September of 2006. After that, we moved into a number of years of dropping the son and the tonnage of paraphernalia needed to go through that year of college. Cheri couldn’t do that first day – instead, I was given the task of driving the boys to college, waving goodbye as the crying mother stood on the front porch, certain she would never see them again.
But today, here in Fargo, children are waking up too early, and traffic jams filling the blocks around each school, as everyone says goodbye, with promises of some delicious supper tonight – most likely pizza – and a mad dash to pick up the other school supplies that are not on the list, but definitely required somehow.
I don’t miss that at all. Although, it does feel a bit as though I have stepped out of the stream of life, and am simply standing on the shore, watching as the first day washes by.
Time doesn’t chase us down the path of life – it just moves ahead of us, often at a pace that is far quicker than we expect. The second day of school will come tomorrow, and then in rapid succession all the others, and before anyone knows it, the summers will come again, and then new school years, and then simply remembering and observing as the next generation goes through the same dance. Have a blessed day, and slow down in the school zone, ok?
Word for the day: handsel. Pronounced like the Grimm fairy tale character: HAN-sul. It’s actually a word rooted in the Middle English, handselne, which is translated, “hand-gift.” It is a gift, or a token of good luck at the beginning of a “new thing” in one’s life. Like a framed first dollar sale earned in a new store – or maybe wearing new clothes on the first day of school. It’s always a gift with meaning, that is most often cherished both by the one giving it, and the one receiving it, because it has meaning far beyond the gift itself.
After 43 years of ministry, Randy Cross lived his "fourth life" and shared about retirement, living boldly and intentionally in our world. To be sure, there was some North Dakota thrown in.