“Turning the bus around”

The big yellow school bus could be the only thing that’s the same from when I went to school.

At the very least, it certainly seems like that.

This week marked the actual “back to school” part that the retail stores have been getting you prepared for over a month. Thanks to them and their discount prices, your children are now equipped with enough No. 2 pencils, assorted colored folders and big erasers to go into their oversized backpacks for a whole year of learning.

Back to school is a big deal for everyone, even those without kids (a traffic ticket in a school zone is quite detrimental to the pocketbook). Up until this week, I nostalgically recalled the first day of school from my own memory banks every time I saw the big yellow “cheesewagon” (that’s what we called it back in the sticks of Pennsyltucky in the age of rotary phones).

This week, after watching my son get onto the big yellow cheesewagon for the first time as he enters his first year of being at school for the full day, I realize that my own notions of back to school will forever be changed.

It goes now from fondly looking back to obsessively thinking ahead.

Now, as you sit at a red light or pass a big yellow school bus, I realize that no longer will I be remembering my old “Muppets” lunchbox or the little red haired girl in seat 6 of bus #34 that always was holding “smarties” or “nerds”. Rather, I will be thinking if I’ve signed permission slips, packed healthy enough lunches (or at least lunches that will have value in the underground-school-cafeteria-trade-circuit), and I must worry about getting to the bus stop or the school parking lot to pick him up on time.

And so it begins.

When I was a kid, school meant a new year, a new teacher, and perhaps a few new faces in my classroom. I went to a small private school so it lacked the staggering parade of cars that come and go from the public school parking lots and the masses of strange faces. There was a stretch of three years (grades 3-5) that I had the same teacher. It was, to say the least, anti-climactic and almost impossible to get stoked for beginning of fourth grade. This past Tuesday, I looked at my son and felt overwhelmed for him as I thought that the whole circus that is the “first day of school” must have been a lot for him to handle especially from his vantage point of “almost waist high.”

I am a pretty laid back father, but you find yourself looking around to the other kids in his class or bus to see who might be the troublemakers or the one’s that might give him a hard time. As an alumni/victim of “schoolyard tom-foolery”, and by that I mean I was the one to be made to look like a fool, usually by someone called Tom, I know how to pick out the ones who like to have fun at other’s expense. I think the reason that parents get so upset and teary eyed when they’re dropping their kids off because of a weird cocktail of three equal parts:

1. Their babies aren’t babies anymore, and don’t need to be saved every moment of the day.

2. They are leaving the comfort of the nest for eight hours a day.

3. School kids can be ruthless to each other and we know that fact all too well.

Yet, to my surprise, and despite my mini-parenting-meltdown, I couldn’t help but beam with pride at the sight his face was so full of vigor to just get in there and learn. Perhaps it was the school supplies in his backpack or maybe it was his friends in the class, or maybe he was just excited to spend his days with someone other than his weird father and loving mother, but he was truly elated about the idea of school and spending all kinds of time there.

The irony is that he will spend the next 15 plus years of his life in school and he will now spend more time with his teachers than he does with my wife and I. Perhaps the vigor and the elation starts to fade from these kids eyes when they realize that or when they start to experience the normal growing pains that we are still sometimes haunted by as adults. Sometimes, I just want to bottle up his happiness or energy and save it for a day when he’s older.

It always amazes me that we pay teachers the salary we pay them, and we ask them to do so much for our kids. Yet, the median salary for a teacher is pretty much entry level for other businesses. Isn’t it a bit skewed that we trust our children with these people, but we pay more to our accountants?

Yes, I’ve heard the old joke that says that the top three reasons to be a teacher are 1. June 2. July 3. August, but how can you not find something wrong with the fact that a guy that hits .235 and has 15 RBI’s this season can make over a million bucks a year, and the teachers of the next generation makes maybe 30-40K per?

I realize that I’m not the first one to make that argument and I’m not the first person to ever get teary eyed when their kids start to need them less and less. It’s a bittersweet feeling to watch your babies become little people, who these days, have to start acting like adults at a very young age.

I know that sometimes, parents say that they wish they could turn the clocks back in time and have them be little kids again. I selfishly agree with that on weeks like this.

But, the beauty and perhaps the irony is that on this back to school week, when many of us parents are getting all vaklempt at the idea of junior learning multiplication tables, your kids put you right back in your place of knowing that you are borderline embarrassing them, just like our parents embarrassed the hell out of us.

I looked at my son on Tuesday, almost overwhelmed with the new chapter in his life, the many years and things that lie ahead, and hoped that he would fare better in the petri dish of the classroom, the politicking on the playground and would be smart enough to stray from being anyone named Tom’s “fool.”

He just gave me a hug and gave me a look as if to say,

“Relax dad, I’ve got a bus to catch.”

Email me at domspino@yahoo.com.