Off to school with ye!

With a mixture of funereal doom (the teenagers), unbridled excitement (the kindergartner) and unmitigated relief (the parents), school started up again this week. As usual, in terms of all the things we wanted to do — climbing Fourteeners, rafting rivers, traveling the state — the summer shot by in a nanosecond while its less-desirable elements — bored kids, persistently empty refrigerator and endless chauffer requests — seemed to drag on interminably.

If there’s one thing kids hate, it’s parents expressing any joy that school is back in session. As a former kid myself, I know the feeling: The folks should want me around at all times, constantly reveling in my wit, my intelligence, my charm – my mere presence. How dare they suggest having to tromp off to the penal colony once again is a good thing?!

But hey, even the closest relationships benefit from a little time off, and education is really super incredibly important, right?

Right. So, off they go, like it or not.

And they mostly like it. Sure, they gritch about having to get up early, to shuffle from Point A to Point B to Point C on a regimented schedule and having to endure certain Evil Teachers Who Obviously Don’t Like Me and Pick on Me More than the Other Kids. There’s the crappy food, the unholy smells of the cafeterias and locker rooms, the eardrum-splitting bells and mind-numbing announcements, rules and proclamations. And, depending on your status, there’s the risk of being persecuted, ridiculed, talked about or, worse yet, ignored.

Mostly, though, I believe that deep down even teenagers believe and understand that these are the good times. They don’t have to work for food, they’re surrounded by their own kind, can pretty much dress as they like and can inhabit certain spheres of influence and prestige where they can feel like they’re on top of their game. And that can be anywhere from the football field to the rarified world of the kid who gets 105 on every test to the corner by the cafeteria where that one kid holds forth on the mysteries and minutiae of sex or Pokemon or Star Wars or Polly Pockets or … whatever.

When I hear my kids complain about school, I can only think how much I’d like to return there myself. If I lived in a city that offered such things, I’d love to spend my spare time pursuing a master’s in something fabulously superfluous, like comparative literature or Egyptology. I think it’d be fun to have a nice, crisp new textbook and an entirely new set of knowledge to master – or at least familiarize oneself with. The fact that our kids get all this mostly free (except half of kindergarten – damn you, Colorado!) makes it all the more appealing — and me all the less tolerant of any whining.

We’re fortunate in that we haven’t had too much in the way of extracurricular problems with our kids. Mostly, they seem to respond to school with a positive attitude, but there are occasions when it’s clear the one-size-fits-all approach to public education doesn’t work for everyone. Too, our kids seem more critical of their teachers and the school administration than I ever was – at least until I was a junior in high school. I’m sure they’d love to fill out 360-style review of their teachers, just to let the world know all those perceived deficiencies. (Me, my main problem was with a vice-principal with the most excellent vice-principal name of all time: Mr. Gunkel.)

Summer may be mostly over, but with school days also come one of the most blissful months of the year: the tourist-free, crystal-clear days of September. Nearly perfect – if it weren’t for the trigonometry homework.

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