And just like that, summer is over. We are back to school this week. Are you
crying? Rejoicing? Somewhere in the middle? My children run this gamut of
emotions. Me? I'm ready.
By the end of the school year I am ready for summer - ready for a more relaxed
schedule, ready to not pack lunches every morning, ready to not fight the
After a few months of that, I have had my fill and I'm ready to resume the
school routine. I like how the changing of the seasons works, literally and
My kids will be starting fourth grade, first grade, and kindergarten. Ever since
we've been doing the school thing, we've had some fun back-to-school
I take the school-aged children on a school supplies shopping date. I know one
can purchase a complete pack of ready-to-go school supplies, but what fun is
there in that? School supplies bring me joy. Happiness is a box of unopened
crayons, their rich colors lined up, tips pointed and ready, or a fresh notebook
waiting to be filled with many a creation. I like to involve the kids in this
shopping process, hoping my enthusiasm will trickle down. After our supplies
have been bought, we hit Red Robin for dinner and a chance to talk about
worries, fears, excitement and goals for the coming year.
I am a big believer in setting goals. Perhaps I will encourage my fourth-grader
to set the goal to not bring vehicles into every piece of writing he does (he has
an ongoing fixation with vehicles and they make their way into his life in many
ways), to work hard and do his homework with a positive attitude, and to
continue to be a kind and helping boy who is an example to everyone around
My first-grader would do well to make it a goal to continue her strong academic
performance, especially in the area of reading - and to not kiss any boys this
year. To my kindergartener, I will help him define some goals pertinent to
starting a brand-new school, making good friends and learning a lot of great
new things about being in school.
The day before school starts, we make pretzel hugs. These are so tasty, pretty,
and incredibly easy, perfect for the kids to make. We pack these as their special
And to the hugs, we add some kisses.
We read The Kissing Hand, the sweet story of Chester Raccoon, who is anxious
about his first day of school, and would rather spend his time at home. His
mother, gently encouraging him with a promise that he will love school, also
passes on a special secret, which will make his days at school as cozy as his
nights at home: the kissing hand.
She takes his hand, gently spreads open his fingers, and kisses his palm.
"Chester felt his mother's kiss rush from his hand, up his arm, and into his
heart." Whenever he feels lonely at school, he can put his hand to his cheek to
feel the warmth of his mother's kiss. In return, Chester gives his mother a
kissing hand, too. And, as promised, the kissing hand, along with his new
teacher and friends, gives Chester Raccoon a happy experience.
After we read this book the night before school starts, we make our own kissing
hands: the kids each trace their hands on paper or felt, cut it out, and place a
red heart in the center. They tuck these into their backpacks and bring with
them a reminder that they are loved.
In another gesture of love, my husband places his hands on each child's head
and gives them a father's priesthood blessing, to calm any fears and inspire
them to do their best and be good examples.
And then there is another tradition, one I didn't intend to happen. Every year,
at back-to-school night, just as I walk into my child's brand-new classroom
and go to introduce myself to the teacher, something happens: I completely
choke up. My husband watches me for it, thinking maybe this year is the year
she can pull it off! But alas, no. He can see in my face that I am fighting it, but
inevitably the tears spring up and I am so overcome with emotion that I can't
bring myself to say anything. I just stand there. It is rather embarrassing, and
my kids' teachers must start each year thinking I'm a real trip.
I have never fully understood why this happens to me.
Perhaps they are tears of pride, the wonder of bringing little people into the
world, watching them grow and learn and contribute to their worlds in a
Perhaps they are tears of anticipation, wondering how much they will learn in
the coming year, the friends they will make, the new experiences they will have.
Perhaps they are tears of sentimentality, of wondering what happened to the
little babies I used to rock. Or maybe it's my own remembering. When I look
back on my childhood, so many of my memories are classified into what grade I
was in, rather than what age I was.
And then there are all of the teachers and friends who shaped those years. Or
remembering the smell of the school bus on the first day of school, or the
excitement of planning the outfit I would wear, or the joy of learning to write
cursive. I loved school, I really did.
Or, maybe, just maybe, the tears are ones of joy, for all of the time I will
reclaim for myself now that school is back in session, the projects to be done,
the cleaned house that will stay clean for more than a few minutes. There is
great probability that this factors into the equation.
But most likely, it is a combination of all these emotions, splashing against
each other until there is no place for them to go but out.
And so, as my children grow, I am quite certain that some of these traditions
will change or evolve -- except for the tradition of the tears. Some things
manage to find a way to stay with you no matter what your age.
Melissa Howell was born and raised in the woods of northern Minnesota. She has a degree in
journalism from the University of Minnesota.
As a single 20-something, she moved to Colorado seeking an adventure. She found one, first in
landing her dream job and then in landing her dream husband; four children followed.
Upon becoming a mother, she left her career in healthcare communications to be a stay-at-home
mom, and now every day is an adventure with her husband Brian and children Connor (9), Isabel
(6), Lucas (5) and Mason (2).
In addition, she is a freelance writer and communications consultant for a variety of
Melissa serves as Assistant director of media relations for stake public affairs and Webelos den leader