Change is in the air again. The summer saw a change in schedule for the children – from my primary care to alternating weeks with dad and the mid-week overnight switch. The initial shock of the Judge’s order, from my disbelief that my ex could actually work the flexible schedule he claimed to Ava’s surprisingly vocal declaration to my attorney that she “did not like the arrangement,” turned out to be a good thing for all involved – the kids got more time with dad (which, by the way, they said they wanted) and I got some time to spend in my “other” state and time to focus on my schoolwork uninterrupted by relentless bickering over personal space violations and the merits of Regular Show versus Max and Ruby. My kids adjusted well to the summertime schedule – they shifted seamlessly from one household to the other – even Ava. And then – just as fast as we were catapulted into summer by a whirlwind of court proceedings and a wedding and pool days and a couple of warm summer nights deckside with friends at the local watering hole - it was suddenly the last week of August and we were preparing for that first day of school.
This will be Ava’s second year in public school, and the little girl known as “smiley” by the entire hoodwinked elementary school staff leapt out of the car on the first day with such unbridled excitement she stepped full on into the rain puddle outside the car door. I am excited because it only took 6 years and three principals for someone to realize how much more sensible it is to redirect the student drop off to the back of the building, rather than have us parents and the big yellow school buses volleying for lanes like traffic on I-95. And while we’re on the (sort of) topic of school administration, it seems each elementary principal – like a political candidate – has to have their own “issue” to drown and perplex the parents who don’t really give a shit so long as our kids get to start school on time and actually learn something besides who likes who in the second grade.
The last principal was a wonderful and attentive educator – and she went above her call of duty to connect me with a friend and formal school board member who could possibly connect me with a rental at a desperate time when the custody battle was heating up. But she had her “slogan” representing her reign – her issue was security. Every school year begins with the typical Open Houses, and during one such open house for our two youngest starting kindergarten my girlfriend and I almost got thrown out for giggling over Mrs. X’s vehement concern that we recognize the orange paper taped to the windows as a “lock down” in progress and to…Just. Keep. Driving. Every year we had to listen to the lock down procedures, how the kids are taught to evacuate the building, and how no one – absolutely no one – volunteers on school property without FBI and state clearances. You know – just in case one of us is a rebel terrorist planning to blow up the manure field next door, and take all the chickens hostage.
Nevertheless, this year we have principal #3 – who was actually Vice Principal #2 for the last couple of years. Nice guy. If he were running for president of the United States, he’d have my vote just for the change in drop off procedure. Meanwhile, our new assistant principal (I’m sorry – they are now called assistant principals) is actually a longtime servant of our district and is now charged with the awesome responsibility of not one, but two schools – as if a man isn’t crazy enough to want to help run an institution full of K-5 kids, he’s gotta step right off the deep end and take on the middle school too. And he’s already had his share of interesting situations – I happen to know, since the brilliant offspring of my Open House cohort wound up in his office the second week of school for “hitting” another student who was trying to steal his lunch envelope. Or so he said. Actually they were just “horsing” around and it was an accident. But dude still had to call these two buddies in for a sit-down and try like hell not to crack up at the stupidity of it all.
So, folks, over the years the hot topics on the elementary school campaign have been the (surprising) Anti-Bullying program (this should be a topic for a whole other blog post), security and lock down procedures, and now…. moms, dads, grandparents, and guardians… if you’ll direct your attention to our Powerpoint presentation above ….the newest political racket of your beloved school district is… drum roll please…. the school district Attendance Policy! As dictated by Pennsylvania School Code 1732. Now, I’d already been to the Middle School Orientation, and heard Assistant Principal’s lecture to those parents who apparently haven’t figured out after 6 years that their kids actually have to attend school or else end up in the local magisterial court. I tried to listen to this lecture again, this time at the elementary school’s open house and – again seated next to my giggle-sister – once again found myself daydreaming about what could be better than being confined to the stocks in the town square if your kid gets more than 3 unexcused absences this year. You need to write the note people!
Meanwhile, my friend J had also slipped into the lazy in-one-ear-out-the-other listening strategy and skipped ahead in our open house handout to suggestions on building your second-grader’s math skills. She silently pointed to the idea at the top of the list, of playing darts. We both started snuffling like a pair of middle school girls in the back of the classroom, except we’re in the front in this particular case and the formidable Mrs. H (a 60-something grandmother with a tattoo, that everyone sees as a cold-hearted warden) shot us a questioning glare mid-intro into the curriculum. Both of us wordlessly knew what the other was thinking – we can play darts with the kids at our favorite watering hole – the kids count their darts, we count lagers – it’s a win-win!
And then we both couldn’t stop cracking up. We caught the attention of some of the other second grade teachers and I started to feel a little guilty, particularly after I found out that we couldn’t just sneak out the back as soon as it was over, because there were special little notes on our little angels’ classroom desks that we just HAD to read. If J and I had actually gone to school together, they would have separated us long ago.
So the fam and I are also adjusting to extracurriculars for the first time since Owen was Ava’s age. Back when he was in kindergarten and first grade, Owen played soccer and tee ball with great enthusiasm – that is, until someone else’s comparisons sidelined him for the rest of his elementary career. Like all soccer moms I enjoyed the time spent on the fields for practice and games that forced out us out the door no later than 5:15 three days a week – and like all soccer moms I also anxiously counted the days until it was over. To say I’m sorry my kids haven’t been too involved in sports or after-school activities is a bit too generous. I freaking celebrated it! And so now here we are again – and this time it’s my daughter who’s decided she really wants to be a cheerleader – thus recommitting me to three months of after-school chauffeur service, concession stand donations, not to mention concession stand duty. My favorite thing! If I was a shameless and immoral opportunist, I’d use my daughter’s condition as a reason to be excused from this simple obligation – but there’s no denying the concession stand’s proximity to the cheerleaders lends me a much better position to monitor her. Dangit!
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, I have prepared myself all summer for the first day of school – for my firstborn and most beloved son to step onto the bus that would take him to Middle School. Millions of emotions here. Collapsing at the busstop as he boarded his ride and screaming “no! don’t leave me!” was a fleeting thought, but… I smiled and waved. The other mom in the driveway with me, who I had just met, asked me if I was okay. Oh yeah, I said. I’m fine. I thought it would be emotional, but really – it’s not at all. By the time I got to my door, I was hyperventilating – and, like a true drama whore I kept visualizing my little boy carrying his kindergarten bag as he hopped on that very first bus to school 6 years ago. And the tears fell harder than the rain that greeted the morning.
Thank God for Todd. Again, my savior who called me shortly afterward talked me down off the ledge – reminding me there was another kid in bed upstairs who needed to get ready for her first day too. My favorite educator had already begun his first day of school driving two hours to work. Yes, that’s TWO hours. He does this several days a week and not only do I think he’s out of his mind, I think he must really love me to have sacrificed so much of his sleep, sanity, time, and gas money.
So we’re settling in, we four. To mathematics, and reading, cheerleading and football games, commuting, studying, working. And calendar watching. Because Fall is my favorite season – when everything new begins to settle into something aged, when we celebrate milestones and birthdays and holidays – cozying up to fireplaces, enjoying family get-togethers, and giving thanks for what we have.