By L&T Columnist Rachel Coleman
After 14 years home schooling my children, I have worked myself out of a job.
The youngest enrolled at Liberal Highest School this week, along with her brother. Their classes look fantastic; periodically, I return to the printouts much in the same way I am usually, at this time of year, paging through my favorite home school catalogues.
But this column isn’t about educational pedagogy or academic excellence. This column is about Kleenex.
I didn’t realize, until we’d gotten halfway through the enrollment process, that attending public school involves elements previously unfamiliar to me. Things like fees (much less than purchasing textbooks, even used ones), untangling the multi-classroom, multi-grade puzzle of a school that educates more than 1,000 students (of course there will be more than one session of the same subject!) and immunization records (gotta have ‘em, or at least a valid explanation).
Things like Kleenex.
I’ve always breezed past the cardboard kiosks that pop up in late July at the local discount and grocery stores. The photocopied lists of what kind of pencils and notebooks children ought to purchase for school had nothing to do with me. Certain types of binders, with multiple subject divisions — unnecessary. We had entire bookcases stuffed with a notebook for every subject. Colored pencils and magic markers — too faded and pale; I always shelled out the money for artist-quality colored pencils, because I feel strongly that red should look RED and not pink.
And we didn’t buy boxes of facial tissues. At my school, the students stayed pretty healthy. Anyone sick or sniffly attended “Sofa School,” which involved thick, cuddly afghans, endless mugs of hot tea, and read-aloud books to occupy the hours productively.
I began my own back-to-school list, a casual, mental roundup of things I’d have to learn. This involved Internet searches for clever recipes with luscious-looking photos. I would need to prepare easy breakfasts ready to grab and go, since there would no longer be time for waffles and leisurely philosophical debates over coffee. Then there was the question of after-school snacks. Did teenagers like milk and cookies the same way little children coming home from third-grade did? Since teenagers in other respects often resemble small children (emotional, sleepy at inconvenient times, particular about the way their shoes are tied, or untied) I figured the answer would be “yes.”
On enrollment day, I watched the other parents. All of them had more than a decade of experience on me. They’d taken their sons and daughters to the door of some kindergarten classroom and left the child there. All morning. At age 5. They’d attended parent-teacher conferences to talk with adults other than themselves and their spouses. They knew what they were in for. They’d walked their children from half-day kindergarten to all-day first grade, from the cozy, small-scale elementary schools to intermediate schools with more students and more challenges. These moms had shepherded their children through the terrors of middle school. I bet they didn’t even need those photocopied supply lists once their children hit fourth grade. They probably knew the smartest ways to get everyone up and ready for school before the sun even came up in the morning.
Like experienced travelers in an airport, none of these parents appeared to be the least bit anxious, unless you counted the ones who had to finish registration and get to work, like my husband who had to exit the process after two hours. Some of them tapped away on their cell phones and checked their watches. The rest just waited. Nobody had boxes of Kleenex.
I felt a burst of panic. I had to catch up — a decade’s worth of parenting experience I had not completed, and I had to get the hang of it all at once, in the next 30 minutes! I was in luck. The ladies who processed our paperwork were kind in the same way kindergarten teachers are kind. The relief that flooded me was most likely the exact same emotion that suffuses kindergarten students when they find out where the bathrooms are located.
The afternoon proceeded smoothly. We located lockers, mastered the combination locks, criss-crossed the hallways until I knew exactly where my two children would be at each hour of the day. Strike that. We walked the halls until the KIDS knew where THEIR classrooms were located.
“I’m so excited,” my daughter said as we emerged into the broiling-hot Kansas sun. “Now, you just get to be my MOM. You don’t have to be both my mother and my teacher!” I gave her a hug. I was excited, too. Cookie-baking sounded much more relaxing than lesson plans and science labs. And we’d made it through the mysteries of public-school enrollment without any major glitches.
Until the drive home, when my son swerved to avoid a pothole, and a heap of tools crashed from the back seat to the floor. Nothing was broken or damaged, but the sound startled me. The heat overwhelmed me. I dissolved into sudden sobs.
“It’s OK, Mom,” the kids told me. “Everything’s fine.”
“I’m not hurt,” my daughter announced from the back seat. “It banged my foot but I’m OK.”
“Stop the car,” I demanded. “I want to see your foot.”
With a dramatic sigh, my son pulled over. My daughter raised her foot, a bit battered but able to move freely.
“It’s really OK,” she told me.
I swallowed hard and rubbed my sweaty face.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “I overreacted. It’s so hot.” And I burst into tears once more.
“Aw, you’re just sad your babies are going away,” my son said kindly as he turned onto a shaded street and we headed toward the house. “Mom, it’ll be OK.”
I’m sure he would have offered me a Kleenex, if we were the sort of family to buy them. Instead, he just patted my hand and hustled me back home.