This morning was my turn for a “lazy morning.” My husband got up with the boys, and I lay in bed reading. I opened the bedroom curtains to let the sunlight in and allow the view of the mountains in the distance, enjoying the quiet hour to myself. Out of the corner of my eye I glimpsed the door slowly creeping open, and I looked up to see which of my two children was hoping to slip in for a hello. I held up the bedcovers to let Zip slide in beside me, overlooking his already-dirty feet.
He eagerly snuggled up next to me, and I caught myself wondering at how my baby had gotten so big. Tomorrow is the first day of school and milestones always seem to amplify the way time has changed things, like a before and after picture. In this case I caught a glimpse in the rearview mirror of the 8-pound, brown-eyed baby I had brought home; curled up beside me was curly-haired, dimple-faced, long-legged 7-year-old. He told me about the turtle pond he is dreaming of building in our backyard – how big it should be and the turtles that will make it home.
“Do you know what today is?” I asked him, when he finished. At least, I think he was finished. Turtle-ponds are a frequent topic of conversation lately.
“Yeeeeeeeees. And it is the last day of summer vacation. School starts tomorrow,” I reminded him (for the 100th time, because I tend to get a bit overzealous when it comes to planning and change). This was the perfect time to have our yearly back-to-school chat, the one we initiated when he began kindergarten.
“There are two very important things Daddy and I want you to do when you are at school. Do you remember what they are?”
“Be a good friend.” It was the first thing out of his mouth. My heart swelled. He knew. He knew that this was one of – if not the – most important things we wanted him to do when he got on that bus each day. He remembered. I silently patted us on the back for getting the message through.
Children go to school to learn, yes. But I want my children to get much more from their education than book learning. I want them to learn to get along with friends. I want them to practice kindness and respect toward others. I want them to understand what it means to be part of a community and how one person’s actions and words can affect everyone around them, how that influence can be used for good or to hurt.
I firmly believe that these lessons are just as important as learning to read and write and solve word problems. These are the lessons that will make them good people and bring a measure of fairness and peace and joy to their small corner of the world. These are skills they have numerous opportunities to practice when they are in the classroom or on the playground or riding the bus.
I remind my son to watch out for children who seem to be left out. I remind him never to bully or make fun of others. I ask him to be a leader in kindness, to be the sort of person that insists on treating others fairly and invites his peers to do the same.
He suggests that the second goal for the school year is “Be respectful to the teacher.”
“Yes, that is definitely important too.” It wasn’t on my “list” but what parent is going to argue with respect the teacher? I mentally expand our list. “So maybe you have three jobs to do: Respect your teacher. Be kind. And the other one is to do your best and have fun learning new things.”
We are lucky that learning comes easy to him. If it didn’t, maybe I would be more concerned with the end result and less with the process of his learning. Or maybe not. I like to think that, regardless of my kids’ intellect, the message would be the same: Have fun learning. Do your best. Because if they do those two things, what more can I ask of them?
Lunches are packed. The different colored folders required for second grade are in Zip’s backpack. And we’ve had our talk – the one we always have on first-day-of-school eve and that we’ll continue having, in some form or another, throughout the year.
Tomorrow morning we’ll wake early and by 8:30 I’ll be alone in a quiet house. I have to admit, I can’t wait. It isn’t relief I feel as much as excitement. Excitement for what the new school year will bring. Anticipation of what my boys will learn and experience. Eagerness to meet new teachers and get to know new friends and the opportunity for my boys to practice these two tasks we have given them.