September 8, 2010
Back to School Blues or the Halleluia Chorus?
My younger daughter generally greets the annual onset of a new school year with worried groans and a furrowed brow, but this year she seems to be adapting to the idea much more easily. Grade four seems quite an attractive idea so far, for now she is one of the 'big kids' in the 'intermediate end' of the school. She hasn't yet asked me what I'm going to do all day without her.
My eldest is graduating from high school this year and so he is feeling 'top of the world' and can begin counting down the days. Graduation is a big deal here. We parents must soon attend 'grad' meetings and volunteer for grad fundraisers. There are scholarships to apply for, college applications to wade through, etc. I'm glad I don't have a girl graduating this year, though. The boys can rent a tuxedo for the elaborate ceremonies, but the girls often buy expensive ball gowns a la Barbie they'll never wear again. My thirteen year old daughter is already joking about making a gown out of coloured duct tape like the girl we read about in the newspaper. I'm all for that.
My younger son is in his second to last year of high school, and seems ready to face the year now that the light at the end of the tunnel that is public education is growing ever brighter. He's happy to get back to violin lessons and orchestra practise, too. He was even heard to say, "I don't know why, but I just feel like this is going to be a good year."
As for me, after a whirlwind summer of working, travelling, visiting, camping, and general chaos, I find myself euphoric to have my first quiet day at home - alone. I see stretched before me six blissful hours of listening to nothing but quiet music or the ticking of the kitchen clock while I go about my work. I love my children, and it is great to be surrounded by them during the holidays, by their laughter and their jokes, their ideals and their energy, but there comes a time when I begin to long for an hour or two of the stillness and solitude that September brings. By spring I will long for their presence again as I begin to feel something akin to lonesomeness by then, but for now.....ahhhhhhhh!
Last year, at a writing workshop, I wrote a little piece about a girl named Zoe and the route she and her friends take to school every day. Incidentally, it is much the same route my friends and I walked to our high school in Nelson back in the mid 1980's. Imagine that!
Zoe walks to the high school every day with friends - sometimes one and sometimes a broken line of five or more stretched across Panorama road. Mrs. Debiasio once told her she loved to watch them pass by her house just to see what they were wearing. In the months of September and June when the mountain mornings are chilly the girls wear coats and sweaters and then carry them home slung on their backs like donkey's burdens in the hot dusty afternoons.
The girls climb up the black-railed steps through the wood where Zoe can still smell the ghost of the garbage bag full of moldering, dank-smelling Playboy magazines they found years ago, up past the hospital with its candy-striped blondes who, in summer, sell them Jelly Tots and melt-in-your-mouth chocolate Rosebuds. They dip down into a straight stretch with a view - a view so much a part of them they acknowledge it with a mere glance but breathe it in all the same - of a long, narrow west arm of a lake straddled by an orange bridge and surrounded by rising, blue mountains shaped like sleeping elephants. The girls meet more girls and now some boys. Sometimes they link arms and chant, "Lions, tigers, and bears, oh my!" with synchronized step-hop-steps.
In winter, Zoe doesn't care enough about looking cool to risk catching her death on the mile-long walk with glacial lake-born winds biting and clawing at her face. With a toque, scarf up to her eyes, snow pants, ski jacket, boots, she is comfortable. But when she gets to her locker she stuffs all the outer wear in. Out of her backpack come snakeskin shoes and the royal blue beret she bought in Vancouver with her babysitting money. She is already wearing the menswear black blazer - the sleeves and collar turned up - that plays host to the button collection with its names of punk bands, clever remarks, and favourite causes: one of them a green stop sign with 'Stop Clearcuts' in the middle.
When they arrive at the school, a rectangular compound set in a hollow in the hillside, the girls go their separate ways to their lockers. Things are different here in these hallways, narrower somehow. Zoe braces herself for the daily dose of the good, the bad, and the ugly that is high school, but somewhere deep down inside she knows: not everyone gets to walk to school.
The photo is of my hometown of Nelson in the fall, my favourite time of year growing up, when the hillsides are painted with vibrant reds, golds and oranges.