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Back-to-school memories...

And just like that, summer was over.

Not from a seasonal standpoint. We still have nearly three more weeks before the calendar turns to fall. But for Baltimore families with school-age children, summer ended last week when school opened back up for the 2012-2013 year. No more camps, day cares, or grandparents to keep children busy. It’s time to grab the backpack and the lunch box and get back down to the business of learning.

That's right, it's back-to-school day and for many parents, the arrival of this annual ritual tends to illicit a wide range of emotions, and those emotions often collide with each other. The simultaneous feelings of joy, angst and sadness can at times be overwhelming, even if you’ve been doing this for a while. And kids are no different.

My oldest daughter started pre-K four this year, at a brand new school no less, and if that wasn’t already enough of a change for her to deal with, she had to adjust to getting up earlier than last year as well as wearing a uniform every day. (One that despite being the smallest size they had is still at minimum one size too big, forcing me to cross my fingers and hope the safety pin holds until I can get to a tailor.)

Getting her ready for school that first day had me recalling some of my own back-to-school memories.  Like the time one year I refused to get on the bus because I was convinced the bus driver was a monster.  I just stood there on the curb, shaking my head “no” while crying as she (it?) beckoned me with her hand (claw?) to climb aboard.  Finally my mom came out of the house to rescue me and ended up having to drive me.

One of the advantages of living in the city is fortunately I don’t have to worry about that because Alivia’s school is only six blocks from our house so convincing her to get on a bus is not an issue.  Instead, we get to start the day off right, with some good, quality walking.  (Mostly, I’m the only one walking while my daughter and her little sister ride in style in the double stroller but hey, it’s a start, right?)  And when I go to pick her up, I bring her bicycle with me and she gets to pedal her way home.

I also remember back-to-school shopping.  It was one of my favorite activities as a youngster.  We’d pick out a special day ahead of time and on that day my mom would take me to the local department store to get me squared away for the year with an assortment of shirts and pants.  And when we were done shopping for clothes we’d hit the shoe store so I could pick out my shoes for the year.  It was an important decision, and I was given full autonomy in making it, so I’d stroll up and down every aisle looking for the perfect pair that fell within my pre-defined spending limit.  Afterwards we’d grab lunch at a local restaurant and talk about the upcoming school year.

As a parent, I wanted to create a similar special memory for Alivia so when it came to shoe shopping we made a big deal about it, hyping it up ahead of time like it was some sort of huge affair.  And on the day in question, we headed out to a local shoe store and I watched as she patiently tried on one pair after another until she found the perfect one, white with pink flowers and, of course, lights.  When we got home we put them in the basement along with her school supplies and there they stayed until the first day of school, when she excitedly put them on.  How can anyone have first day jitters with a brand new pair of shoes, right?

Those are my two most vivid memories about back-to-school day.  Mostly though, when I think about it I think about my mom.  She was a stay-at-home parent, like I am, and all the little details about what she did to get me ready for the new school year were just more opportunities for her to show how much she loved me.  That’s what I take away from it some 30-plus years later and I’d consider myself lucky if my daughters grew up and felt the same way when they look back on it.

Because when it’s all said and done, all the emotions that back-to-school day bring out in parents  - whether it’s pride and joy at what the future holds or sadness that they are growing up too fast or everything in between – all those emotions are really just by-products of the love we have for our children.  And if we are able to teach them that before that first bell even rings, then they are in for a quality education that year.

Best wishes to all city families on a wonderful school year.

Patrick Gutierrez is the Interim Director of Communications for DBFA and still does not ride buses driven by monsters.

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