A white, indifferent morning sky,
and a crow, hectoring from its nest
high in the hemlock, a nest as big
as a laundry basket …
In my childhood
I stood under a dripping oak,
while autumnal fog eddied around my feet,
waiting for the school bus
with a dread that took my breath away.
The damp dirt road gave off
this same complex organic scent.
I had the new books—words, numbers,
and operations with numbers I did not
comprehend—and crayons, unspoiled
by use, in a blue canvas satchel
with red leather straps.
Spruce, inadequate, and alien
I stood at the side of the road.
It was the only life I had.
~Jane Kenyon “Three Songs at the End of Summer”
Back to school no longer is the day after Labor Day as it was when I was growing up. Some students have been in classes for a couple weeks now, others started a few days ago to ease into the transition more gently. Only a few are starting today: school buses roar past our farm brimming with young faces, new clothes and shoes, stuffed back packs and a fair amount of dread and anxiety.
I remember well that foreboding that accompanied a return to school — the strict schedule, the inflexible rules and the painful reconfiguration of social hierarchies and friend groups. Even as a good learner and obedient student, I felt I was a square peg being pushed into a round hole when I returned to the classroom, so the students who struggled academically and who pushed against the boundaries of rules must have felt even more so. We all felt alien and inadequate to the immense task before us to fit in with each other, allow teachers to open our minds to new thoughts, and to become something more than who we were.
Growth is so very hard, our stretching so painful, the tug and pull of potential friendships stressful. As my own children now make this annual transition to a new school year as teachers, and as I prepare for the new students who will soon be under my care, I take a deep breath on a foggy morning and am immediately taken back to the fears of a skinny little girl in a new home-made corduroy jumper and saddle shoes, waiting for the bus on a wooded country road.
She is still me — just buried deeply in the fog of who I have become, under all the piled-on layers of learning and growing and stretching — but I do remember her well. She could use a hug.