Back to School and Mixed Emotions

Its that time of year again. The time when kids are heading back to school. It seems to have come quicker this year, but I believe I say that every year. Summer doesn’t last as long as it used to when we were kids, does it? Dad always told us that the older you get, the quicker time goes. Of course, I always thought he was crazy. Not so much anymore.

I live in Texas now and school actually started back up on August 15th. You know, when the temperature is still 108 degrees here. Go figure.

Growing up in New York, we didn’t go back to school until early September, usually after labor day. September is my memory of “back to school”, and, while Fall had not yet descended upon those streets of Cobblestone, it was nowhere near 108 degrees. Of course, back in the day, the schools were not air-conditioned, so starting anytime before September would have been “cruel and unusual punishment.” Geez, even with EVERYTHING air-conditioned in southeast Texas, I think going back to school in the middle of August is sadistic! Then again, there are not any real “ seasons” in this part of Texas and I really do miss those seasons. Here is just disgustingly hot, really hot, pretty damned warm and for two weeks; “hey, it got cold”.

My memories of going back to school at PS 41 were always very mixed. As I’ve told you ad nauseam, I was an insecure kid and hated being away from Mom. My recollections today take me back to 4th grade when I was afraid of everything. Thus, the prospect of trying to make friends, fit in and not be the subject of what would now be called bullying basically had me in a state of constant nervousness. I wondered if I would get a nice teacher? As luck would have it, as I entered 4th grade, I found out I was going to have Mrs.C., a teacher with the reputation of being very strict and downright mean. This terrified me even more. As it turned out, Mrs. C was strict and she could be tough, but she was only that way to the kids who were mean to other kids or to the kids who showed her no respect. She watched over the weaker ones, the intimidated ones, the ones that had “that look” in their eyes. More about that in a bit.

Bottom line, back to school was always a time of high anxiety and nervousness for me. As summer drew to a close, the anxiety increased. Seasons were very defined in the Northeast; one could almost “feel” summer coming to an end. The mornings were a bit cooler and the shadows fell differently in the afternoon. Even the “scent” of the air changed. All these subtle, but distinct changes were catalysts for my mood to change from relaxed, free and safe to nervous, tense, insecure.

However, I mentioned mixed emotions. There was “another side of the coin”. Perhaps not enough to counter the fear and appreciation, but enough to put a dent in them.

The changing seasons, especially when fall finally hit in force; the changing color of the few trees, the shorter days, the cooler temperatures, all meant the holidays were on their way. Holidays were fun times, family times, safe times. A time of high anticipation and expectation. Riding closely on the return to school was Halloween, then, only a month later Thanksgiving then, of course, Christmas. How I looked forward to those! There, in a nutshell, were the mixed emotions. The fear, anxiety, nervousness followed by a time of hope and happiness. To this day, the” back to school” bell triggers many of these same, tucked away emotions.

A final word. I mentioned Mrs. C, my 4th-grade teacher. I feared being in her class because of her “reputation “. She proved to be one of the good ones. While never abandoning her position as “ teacher” and disciplinarian, she cared for the weaker ones, such as myself. She was always aware of my “look”; she knew if I was being picked on or was apprehensive about a class activity. She was not simply aware, she tried to do something about it. Perhaps it was just a word of encouragement or even a slight pat on my back. She let me know she was watching.

Just this week I spoke to a teacher friend of mine who spoke about the need for us to have our eyes open at all times. Look for the kids sitting by themselves at lunch, look for the ones who don’t seem excited by the coming holidays…… look for the ones with “the look.” We never know what’s going on in those vulnerable, little lives. Great advice for ALL of us from a caring teacher.

Well, it’s only 106 here in Texas today… buses rolling …fall must be coming soon, no? Where is my sweater?

Mixed emotions.


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