The day after Labor Day — designated once again for the back-to-school date — my husband and I took our daily walk through the neighborhood.
As we passed each bus stop, with groups of elementary children wearing new backpacks — some as big as themselves — we heard their excited chatter and observed some eager parents snapping photos of their first graders’ momentous occasion.
Stopping for a minute to absorb the buzz of their excitement, Paul and I reflected upon the many back-to-school days that we had shared with our children, grandchildren, and young friends, marveling at their enthusiastic preparation.
Though school supplies, backpacks and new shoes have always paved the way toward a fresh school year, I’ve been thinking about that same anticipation— sometimes laced with anxiety — that extends from a first-grader’s reluctance to leave his or her mom, to the sixth grader’s concern about getting lost in middle school. In addition, when students enter high school, still concerned about getting lost, their worries sometimes continue about such things as whom to sit with in the cafeteria and how to blend in with the crowd.
Through the years, as a mother, grandmother and elementary school volunteer, I’ve heard a range of things that have worried young students.
For example, a 15-year-old friend of mine started thinking about her return to school as a high school sophomore about a month ago. She was wondering who her teachers might be and if there were any friends in her class — things that I remember, myself, having anticipated.
A few conversations later, her thoughts turned to jeans, leggings, tops, dresses and shoes — choices she might wear on the first day of school. She was excited to shop online and to go on a buying trip for that purpose. She even sent me a photo of her new outfit, though she had since changed her mind several times.
Another teen once expressed concern about where to stand inside the high school building as students congregate before the bell has rung for classes to begin. Apparently, special spots can be a gathering place for groups of friends.
Through the years, I’ve heard apprehensions about where to sit on the school bus, “mean teachers,” cyber bullying, not enough time to finish lunch, too much homework, and too little time to get to the next class.
As adults, we want to shelter our children from those anxieties and calm them of fears that may even seem trivial. I believe that sometimes those experiences — with much support — can be as vital as the lessons learned in the classroom.
My 17-year-old grandson, Ben, has had his own lists of aggravations through the years, but he surmounted them and as a high school senior has matured through his experiences, relying mostly on his future and less on the social norms of high school.
This year his preparations for the first day back to school did not include shopping for the current clothes and shoes that everyone — including him —is wearing. Instead, his interest in new jeans and T-shirts seems to have been replaced. His only back-to-school planning consisted of two summer assignments from two AP classes and a short shopping stint for school supplies.
“In previous years, I felt like a kid,” Ben said. “As a senior, I feel very independent, accountable, and more like an adult.”
His schedule — which includes a class at a community college — is a much lighter one, thanks to last year’s fuller agenda consisting of several AP courses.
Ben said his college class is much different from high school and he expressed surprise at the more relaxed college classroom that doesn’t have the regimented schedules of high school and is especially surprised to see some of his fellow students — most of them in their 20s — pushing baby strollers.
He is ready for an out-of-state college when he graduates and, probably, a few new anxieties that students confront such as finding a compatible roommate and navigating around the campus.
Hopefully, all graduates should be equipped to handle the next set of concerns: finding a job and a place to live.
And the list continues through life as the ladder — reaching toward one’s personal success — is mastered, one rung at a time — with a few anxieties to conquer along the way.