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I’m too old for this.

So, we’re almost two weeks into the new school year. My kids seem settled into their new routines in 4th grade and 8th grade.  Me? Not so much.

Now that my younger son is in 4th grade and I have just two years left as an elementary school parent, I realize that not only are my kids getting older, but I am too.  This was especially apparent to me on the first day of school, when I stood outside the school door, waiting for my 4th grader to bound out and announce to me that he was “starving” – our charming daily after-school routine. I glanced over to the door where the tiny first-graders came out, and saw the parents at their first school pickup, pushing a stroller with a younger sibling, or chasing a toddler around the playground.

back to school

That was me – seven years ago, picking up a first-grader while simultaneously figuring out how to get through a second round of the Terrible Twos.  I got involved in the school, met other moms, and made friends. By the time both kids overlapped in the school, every face there was a familiar one.

Seven years is a pretty long time, if you’re going to the same place twice a day, every day, from September until June. And in seven years, a lot can change.  My 8th grader is still more or less that same sweet kid he was in first grade.  Unless we’re together in public where he might be seen by another 8th grader. Then he might pretend that he doesn’t know me. My 4th grader is still adorable and energetic.

And me?  By the time my family “graduates” from elementary school, I will have spent nearly a decade getting to know teachers and parents, watching my kids learn and grow.  In “my” elementary school years, I will have gotten through most of my 40s – arguably the happiest years of my life so far. But it feels strange. I had kids on the older side, and as I’m a little closer to 50 than I am to 40, many of the new parents are in their 30s. They are just beginning this journey, while I’m figuring out how to parent with an arthritic knee, graying hair and a husband with an AARP membership (and no, he’s not generations ahead of me; they send you the paperwork at 50, and if your hankering for discounts outweighs your vanity about your age, it’s a nice thing to have. But I digress).

In another two years, when I have one child in high school and one in middle school, I suspect I will look back on the nine years spent as an elementary school parent as a sweet time in my life. I still enjoy shopping for school supplies and making Halloween costumes; I don’t mind helping with homework and packing lunches.  Now I just need my reading glasses to do it all.

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Hello, I’m your child’s teacher!

It’s that time of year again.  There’s a chill in the air, the sun is setting earlier, I’m sneezing from who-knows-what flying around, and we’ve spent two late evenings this week in overheated classrooms with a bunch of other parents who don’t even seem to be trying to resist the urge to distract themselves on their phones while their kids’ teachers are telling them what to expect from the next 10 months.

hello

It seems a little more straightforward in elementary school.  The teacher (who, by the way, probably hates back-to-school night because odd as it might seem to you, she is a whole lot happier trying to corral a bunch of runny-nosed 7-year-olds into their seats than she is talking to adults whose suit-covered behinds don’t even FIT into those seats), has enough time to show you adorable drawings on the walls, and give you a little show-and-tell about this year’s confusing spelling program, and some sort of diorama your kid will be crying about in a few short months.

You’ll sign up for an individual conference next month, where you can find out if your child is as weird in school as they are at home.

Now, back-to-school night in middle school seems to be an entirely different story.  Given that middle schoolers are a somewhat mysterious brood, prone to periods of silence, followed by periods of intense information-sharing and questioning, it’s possible you know a lot about your middle schooler’s teachers.  Or nothing.

You can expect to be squeezed through crowded hallways of confused, lost parents, looking for the Language Arts room.  The confusion is frequently interrupted by, “Lisa! Over here!!  Oh, my God! I haven’t seen you in so long! How was the beach?”  Followed by, “Excuse me, sorry! Excuse me,” while Lisa prances across the hallway to kiss her friend and they both pull out their phones to see when they can get together for coffee.

This is all happening in the approximately 37 seconds the parents have to get from one class to the next, because if parents were actually given an appropriate amount of time to get around the building, we’d be there until midnight.

You can likely expect to be greeted at the door by a foreign language teacher.  In a foreign language.  This makes me exceedingly uncomfortable.  Our son takes Spanish, and it’s not like I don’t understand when Senora Whats-Her-Nombre shakes my hand and says “hola.” But I’m never sure how to respond.  I’m pretty sure she speaks English, so I could say “Hi,” but given that she’s started the conversation in Spanish, I feel sort of obligated to go along with her and pretend that I’m bilingual.  But I’m afraid that if I say “hola” in return, she’s going to ask me a question or say something I don’t understand in Spanish.  So I just sort of look at her, quickly break eye contact and go sit down.

You can expect that, unless you are an engineer or accountant, your child’s math teacher is going to use a term like “absolute value” or a word like “quadratic” that is going to make you feel afraid enough that you may ask the teacher now if she can tutor YOU, because if your child asks you ANY question about math this year, he is going to find for sure that you’re really not as smart as you like to pretend you are.

When the Phys. Ed. teachers announce that every 7th grader is required to have deodorant in their gym locker, you’re going to think a lot of things.  Like, is there any parent who has never gotten a whiff of their own 7th grader and not figured that out on their own?  Or, please let it not be my kid who needs to be spoken to because he has forgotten to use the deodorant I know he brought in the first week of school.  Or, how is it possible for a teacher to tolerate being in a room full of sweaty 7th graders?

When back-to-school night eventually ends, you hope the sun hasn’t started coming back up again.  Because you still have to get home, get any straggling kids to bed, and start worrying about a math midterm.

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