Back-to-School Musings

By Kathryn Finegan Clark

The first day of school looms large in a child’s life – hyper-discussed, anticipated and sometimes feared by the little one. Sending a child off to school is one of the toughest – albeit joyous – happenings in a mother’s life.

A lump the size of a small pumpkin lodged in my throat the first time I watched our daughter climb aboard the big yellow school bus. It had scowled at me at first sight and I saw it as an enemy.  That was many years ago but I see it now as vividly as the day it occurred.

I clutched her little brother’s hand a little tighter as the bus bearing my first-born wobbled off and disappeared behind a hill. Suddenly I realized with tears beginning to flow I would have to do this again in a few years.

The waving goodbye to both daughter and son has continued – through high school and college, and then the BIG leaving home to seek their separate careers and mates in cities as near as Manhattan and as far as San Antonio.

Our children are adults now and we have a grandson who is not yet ready for school although he is a happy little day-tripper, off to daycare with a little backpack and a big smile – and he’s been going there for a couple years. Sending him off to kindergarten or first grade probably will not be as traumatic for his parents.

So much has changed, I reflect, in a mere generation. Today’s children and parents face so many new challenges. Parenting, for one thing, is different, with both mother and father engaged in the rearing process, meaning they get to share both pleasures and chores.

When my children were young, it was rare to see dads waiting for the school bus or in doctors offices or sitting with the moms while dance or music lessons came to a close.  Now, you see as many men caring for their kids as you do women.

At a time when most others were stay-at-home moms, I worked as a newspaper reporter with often outrageous hours and my husband frequently had to sub for me in those waiting games. He usually was the only man among the moms. Thankfully, he’s the kind of guy who bears that type of thing with good grace.

The time he spent with the children benefited  them – and him, and it allowed me to continue with a career I loved but had set aside because in those days there was no daycare.

Another big change is our wired-ness – and our children’s. The technology that today has threaded itself through almost every aspect of our daily lives was then either in its infancy or still in the pipedream stage.  When our children were still in elementary school my husband, always fascinated with gadgets, had one of the great gray Apples with a screen only a bit larger than an oversized postage stamp.

Our daughter’s first experience with a computer at school was in the fifth grade when there was one computer in the library for the entire school.  When she started college we bought her an electric typewriter which did little more than gather dust after she discovered the college’s computer lab.  Now kids start using computers in kindergarten.

Our son was spending his junior year in college in Glasgow when I sent him my first international e-mail. I sent it from work where we had a new system and where I shouldn’t have, and of course, it bounced back and I had a brief visit from an IT person who reminded me of the company’s policy about personal communications.

Although the world has changed so much, the social customs and technology matter little in the great scheme of education. We all know technology is a double-edged sword. It certainly speeds up the learning process but sometimes it teaches too much too soon. In the end it is simply a tool, and like all tools, should be used with care.

What parents should care about when their children climb the steps to that school bus, which, aside from a few safety improvements,  hasn’t changed much in a generation itself, is the quality of the teachers who will guide them through a maze of studies – caring teachers who will open the doors of the world for their little charges.

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