Twenty-four years ago, we began our adventure and support of the Texas educational system. Twenty-four years ago, pregnant with our youngest son, and holding our year old middle son, I watched as our firstborn climbed the steps and lined up for kindergarten. He did not even look back, as he was an old five year old...about to turn six on September 12th. He was so ready. And he thought his tall, blonde kindergarten teacher was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen.
Back then, it was half-day kindergarten. And if I walked him to school, I barely had time to get a few household chores done before packing his brother back in the stroller and meeting him when he came bursting out the door.
Now I am sitting here waiting for the youngest to call. This morning he takes his last final at college. He has already accepted a job in Austin at an electrical engineering firm, and been to interviews and orientation.
I took a picture of our boys the first day of school every year...and it seems fitting that Ben, our electrician-to-be installed a new light switch for me over his last picture in the hallway: A light switch for the front porch light.
When I think about all they carried in their backpacks: from crayons to pencils, folders, homework...to calculators, and now cell phones...I remember all the permission slips I had to sign. The first week was the worst---sometimes eight forms per son, and them standing over me barking: "just sign it, mom" as they were sick and tired of the rules sheets collected over eight classes.
Weighed down with an extra sack of supplies on the first day, we were required to bring two boxes of kleenex, dish soap, and glue. I never had a teacher ask for glitter, but the kindergarten teacher did boobytrap a thank you note with some. I read somewhere that this year kids are having to bring toilet paper, paper towels, and other essentials to shore up budgets.
I only remember one visit to the principal with firstborn. I think it was first grade: biting. By the time the middle son and youngest started school five years later, biting was no longer a sent-to-the principal offense, sadly. I think it cured him. I know I cried.
I used to make homemade bread when our firstborn was in elementary school. One day he requested store-bought bread so that he could be like everybody else.
School plays, school lunches, PTA meetings, band, music lessons, schedules, tee shirts for sports, band, and spirit days....working concessions, volunteering in the copy room, volunteering in the lunchroom, selling school supplies...I gradually ended up spending whole days at the school once the youngest was in kindergarten.
I'll never forget the call to the loud speaker in the copy room telling me that Mrs. Farnsworth needed to speak to me about my first grade middle son. Every year she had this lesson on "fortunately and unfortunately" where she had the students fold a big manilla paper in half and illustrate fortunately on the front, and unfortunately on the inside. James had proudly drawn: "Fortunately I have a bodm." Inside, he illustrated complete with gas bubbles: "Unfortunately, I frtiid..."
That is why my license plate reads: FRTID... in honor of James. (now a captain in the Army with a baby of his own)
Try keeping a straight face as your son's first grade teacher explains how this in somehow inappropriate. It was all I could do to bite my tongue and wish Bob was at my side to enjoy it with me.
I got the impression, 24 years ago, that the teachers were professionals, and they seemed to say, as we dropped off our children: we will take it from here, and try and undo all the poor parenting you have done thus far. Back then, I was insulted, but tried to instill in my sons a respect for authority, and love for learning. Once I started volunteering at the school, I saw an even greater need to be on site, and help out and keep an eye on whatall they were teaching. Saving the whales and the turtles was about the only thing our sons came home from kindergarten learning. James could spell TURTLE before he could spell his own name. Nowadays, you'd better have them reading BEFORE they go to school, or they end up in the lowest reading group in FIRST grade...setting in motion the struggle throughout junior high and high school for the "upper" math and reading classes who somehow got the better teachers and experienced better class order.
Don't get me started on the push for ritilin when our youngest was in kindergarten. We had to take him to the pediatrician and get written proof that he was not ADHD. And in first grade, his "testing" began. Tested for a learning disability, a label we fought for twelve more years. We had independent testing done, and even in high school aptitude testing in Dallas emphasized his gifts---spacial abilities that serve him well to this day. But, we learned, along with Ben, that not all children learn alike. Some learn better hearing it. Some are more hands on. Classroom modifications in high school helped, but the minute he turned 18, an federal funds were no longer flowing, they had him sign off that he was somehow miraculously "cured" and not eligible to take that two inch folder to college as had been promised. We learned the hard way not to trust the education "professionals" of Lamar High School.
We learned teacherspeak words like: sequencing, graphia and while a UTA aptitutde test showed James that he ought to persue accounting, independent testing in Dallas showed he had poor graphia (ability to scan a page of numbers) and would be a better engineer. (now a captain in the Army)
I always thought that a "bursar" was a funny name. Before the advent of computers, I got to troop down to the bursar's office each semester to help James pay at UTA. And getting Andy's payment in after "registration" was a hoot---checks had to be postmarked early August and first week of January. (when our son was home---not at the actual college---which would have physically made payment a little easier.) By James' final semesters, it was all done online. I no longer had to stand in line at the bursars nor the parking lot line for the sticker so James could park his truck. Paying for parking at college is a way to gouge parents...and give parking lot security folks something to do. We learned the hard way not to pull forward in a parking spot at UTA.
Our sons somehow survived our parenting, learned to drive, and have flown the nest. I find it somehow poignant that the very month our youngest is done, graduated, finished---our first grandchild starts preschool. There will be no break from the prison I call the school year calendar.
We look back and marvel at how every Friday night used to be marching band---then Saturdays saw us traveling down to College Station to see him march in the Fightin' Texas Aggie Band. Good memories.
Ben just got home. 11am. Thursday, August 18th. The end of an era.