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August 13, 2012
We the Parents
Back to School
by Melissa Howell

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 homework struggle.

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 figuratively.

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 traditions.

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 him.

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 first-day-of-school treat.

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 positive way.

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.

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