My six-year-old started first grade today. Yesterday, at the school’s annual meet-and-greet, he was vibrating with excitement at the idea of seeing all of his friends again. His teacher asked us to write down a list of goals, and I’m pretty sure not many of his classmates wrote down that they want to learn how to do division. Or that they were interested in “math equations.” But he also squeaked with joy at seeing many of his friends, because that’s part of school for him, too; he got to see that he’s in the same class with kids he’s known for years at this point, and his best frenemy is in the class next door, and he’s really excited about the whole thing.
Honestly, much of Simon’s experience that way parallels my own, which is why I never quite got the hate for school kids always showed in the movies and on TV. I mean, high on the list of my favourite commercials of all time is the Staples back-to-school one to the tune of “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” because of the dancing dad and the surly kids. Fair enough. But back to school, when I was growing up, wasn’t the subject of dread that it always seemed to be in media. Nor the cause for absolute celebration as it was in the children’s books of my mom’s childhood, either, I suppose, but still.
I suspect that, for most kids, the first day of school just is. Sure, you celebrate the last day of school, but by the end of summer, it is definitely possible to be summered out. Especially if none of your friends live a reasonable walking distance away. So you spend pretty much all your time either home alone, with siblings if you have them and maybe a parent or guardian, or else depending on said parent or guardian to transport you. Or you’re in daycare, and how different from school is that really? Less educational obligation, I suppose—I was never in daycare—but still somewhere you have to be every day whether you want to or not. Also, if you’re like me, and Simon, and a whole lot of my friends, school signals the end of hot weather and the beginning of weather you like better, and of course it means that Halloween and various other holidays are coming.
This is, I suspect, another place where it shows that a lot of adults don’t really remember what childhood is like. As an adult, you do not, for the most part, have summer vacation. Certainly not in the same way; you still have lots of obligations. (Another reason I was cool with the end of vacation; I didn’t have to do yardwork six days a week anymore.) The idea of having to go back to obligations seems like a terrible thing, something to lament. You don’t necessarily remember that there’s more to school than obligations. Even the kids I knew who weren’t exactly academically stimulated—and I was mostly in gifted classes, growing up, so most of my friends were nerds—are looking forward to the social end of things.
Certainly I’m not trying to claim that Simon’s experiences are universal. I’m sure there were plenty of dragging feet this morning and that not every kid was out waiting for the school bus early. Kids who live next door to their best friends, kids with undiagnosed learning disabilities, kids who are bullied—there are lots of reasons to not look forward to school. But there are lots of reasons to be excited about it, and I don’t think those reasons are solely the territory of the nerds.