Volume 75, Number 17 | September 14 - 20, 2005

Back to School
A special Villager supplement

A little relief from the summer as school starts

By Angela Benfield

As the first day of school approaches, most children get knots in their stomachs. The life-altering questions that have been lingering since June are about to be answered: Who will be in my class? Who will my new teacher be? Will I have that mean one who likes to give three hours of homework every night?

Children aren’t the only one with butterflies in their bellies. Parents can be equally anxious about the prospect of their babies going off on their own for six-and-a-half-hours every day. Will he make friends? Will she eat the fruit I packed for lunch? Will he wash his hands after using the bathroom?

For some parents, nothing can be more unsettling than being separated from their little darlings for such a stretch of time. I don’t happen to be one of those parents.

When I was a child, I used to love summer. It was the best time of the year. I would go to the beach, play with my friends, watch television, ride my bike, stay up late, eat a lot of ice cream and sleep in all morning. I didn’t have a care in the world. And the best part was no homework.

However, that all changed once children came into my life. Instead of summer being a time to wind down and enjoy life, it became a race between the first day of school and a mental breakdown. Last summer, the latter won the race.

Not that I don’t enjoy spending time with my kids. I do, but 24/7 is just too much for any normal human being to endure. I start to hear myself making outrageous statements like, “A wall is not a substitute for a brake on your bicycle” or “the phrase ‘punch buggies no punch backs’ has been banned from being said by anyone in this family ever again.” And I start to get a nervous twitch in my eye and while I’m in the shower I can’t remember if I shampooed my hair or not.

Perhaps if I were one of those lucky people who had a beach house in the Hamptons or the Jersey Shore, then maybe I could hold onto a little bit of my sanity. The kids would go off to play by the ocean in the morning and come back tired, tan and ready for bed in the evening. We would have dinner, they would take a bath, I would read them a story, and they would fall off to dreamland before I made it to “the end.”

Instead, we were in the city for the better part of July and August, which according to my 8-year-old son is “the most boring place in the universe.” So, I started taking them to museums in an attempt to spark some fascination. We saw 3,000-year-old Egyptian artwork, 150 million-year-old dinosaur bones and a set of George Washington’s false teeth. None of these things made much of an impression on them. Well…they did think the teeth were a little strange.

Actually, we were able to get out of the city for part of the summer. We rented a cabin in the mountains to try to get back in touch with nature. On the first day, we were paid a welcome visit by a black bear and I got covered with mosquito bites. After that, I decided to stay inside the cabin for the rest of the vacation in a space probably half the size of our apartment with one quarter of the amount of furniture.

Although we didn’t have the benefit of modern conveniences — I was having a serious bout of e-mail withdrawal and kept hearing the crickets chirp “you’ve got mail” — we did manage to get a bit of a technology fix. We gathered around the 3-inch screen of my son’s Gameboy to watch a few episodes of “SpongeBob SquarePants.” It was a bonding family moment. So much for getting in touch with nature.

Well, all this excitement finally came to an end last week. The first day of school came and I think I made it through summer with most of my mental facilities in tact this year.

Back to getting up early, packing lunch and making sure homework gets done. Back to after-school activities, parent-teacher conferences and weekend soccer games. The lazy days of summer have passed and it’s back to the daily grind. As I think about this, I can’t help but get a tear in my eye. I forgot to wash the shampoo out of my hair and it’s dripping down my face.

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