September 8, 2010

Back to School Blues or the Halleluia Chorus?

I know it's time for 'back to school' when my eldest daughter starts pacing the kitchen with heavy steps.  She can only take so much easy living before she senses an innate need to get back to work.  Even though she said she was ambivalent about returning to school, especially the social side of things, she admitted she was officially bored and needed more to do with her days, not to mention her mind.  She said she was even looking forward to doing homework. 

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's Way

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.


  1. So much to say! I love your story-telling, and I hope the quiet fall brings you more time to devote to it, and that you'll share with your readers. I loved the images and feelings the scenes evoked.

    Next, I think you are so lucky to have all your children welcome school and wanting to be active, to do something. I was also lucky in this way, but I know mothers who struggle to get their children interested in school.

    And finally, my gosh, that photo of your hometown is gorgous! I have only lived in fall colors a couple of years in my life, in Portland, Oregon, and it was heavenly. We get very muted fall colors here in Texas and they don't come till Thanksgiving. It is strange for me to be reading all these blogs about fall arriving, when I'm in for two more months of Indian Summer.

  2. Rebecca, your life always sound so tranquil compared to the chaos here. But, I think it is our different personalities which make this so. You have a very calming influence.

  3. Not having kids myself, I cannot really connect to any of this except in that most peripheral of ways. Mostly confined, if I'm honest, to annoyance at the quantum increase in traffic.
    But you really should mention the Duct tape idea to her father if you want to see fuses blow in his head. And I guarantee you that in the next few years you will see the distinct good in the Burka.

  4. DG: I hope so too! And thanks so much for your kind comments. I know how lucky I am to have kids excited about learning and being active. The academic structure isn't for everyone, which makes it hard for kids who don't fit that model. My kids just happen to be able to work within the system, which makes it pretty easy on me. So I count my lucky stars.
    Two months more of Indian Summer would be pretty nice, too, but I do love the changing leaves. I have heard that Nelson is much like Denver Colorado. We have lovely fall colour here near the Coast, too, but a lot of the time it's a pretty soggy scene.

    Tracey: My life is more tranquil than yours due to the age of my children. I've been at this parenting thing for seventeen years, and have pretty much been through everything imaginable - so perhaps it is more resignation rather than tranquility? Ha ha.

    Vince: I understand you not connecting to my sense of things at the moment, but I think you misunderstand the duct tape dress thing. It was a very nice dress, which just happened to be made of duct tape, and was a protest against the enormous cost of graduation dresses. Another girl in Vancouver made a surprisingly elegant dress out of plastic garbage bags for the same reason. She said, "people in the world are starving and yet girls my age are spending $800 on dresses they will wear once". My brother in law even made a suit out of duct tape for a costume once. Yes, we Canadians are wacky people sometimes.

  5. Yes, I'm with Tracey. You do always seem tranquil. I'm trying not to wish away this time with my kids, constantly looking to a time when they're all older, but inevitably I do. Sometimes I wonder if I've learned nothing through my illness about living in and appreciating the moment. Duh!


I'd love to hear your thoughts. Thanks!