Thursday, August 11, 2005
This week, I found myself envying an 8 year old. At first, I thought it was back-to-school envy. I thought I was longing for the days when I put on my carefully chosen first-day-of-school outfit and slid into a new year of life staring at the alphabet stencils above the chalkboard.
But after I examined my emotions, I realized it went deeper than that. I was having back-to-school-supply-shopping envy.
Let this empty and withering adult reminisce.
Those were the days when I would follow my mom down the aisles of Bailey's School Supplies and fill our basket with the things on the list my teacher sent out. (Why did we buy a new protractor every year? When did I ever use the protractor? What marketing machine is driving the protractor industry?)
As we shopped, my main concern was to select the image-projecting items such as the Trapper Keeper notebook, the lunchbox and the crayon set that would define in small ways my place in the social pecking order of my new grade.
In my mind, the most important purchase was the crayons. I needed the big box with the sharpener in the back. I needed all four tiers of crayons with their subtle, cleverly named shades of color. Everyone loved you if you had the big box of crayons. Or so I thought at the time.
When I got all my booty back home, I would squirrel it away to my room for the pre-school organization and daydreaming. This is usually when one of my neighborhood friends would come over to see what I got and to compare piles.
As I pulled out all the crayons one by one to read their inspired titles out loud, the ritual was about more than the objects in my hands.
It was about starting a new life with a clean slate.
Because I went to a small, private religious school, I had the same teacher in third grade as in second grade. No matter.
My new school supplies and my accompanying new approach to life would erase any mistakes I had made as a second-grader.
As I carefully placed my thin-ruled three-ring paper into my Trapper Keeper, I promised myself that all year long, I would open the rings using the red slider device instead of ripping them out impatiently. I promised that I would keep my subjects divided by the tabbed spacers. I even convinced my mom to buy me a little plastic zipping pocket to insert into my notebook for each subject.
My pencils would stay sharpened. My erasers would not break off the pencils from too much unbridled erasing enthusiasm. I would be perfect this year. And for the first week of school, I usually was as perfect as an 8 year old could be. I kept my textbooks stacked according to their size inside my desk and kept my promise to gracefully remove each piece of notebook paper.
What I envied this week while watching parents buy their children's school supplies was the annual feeling of starting all over again. After going to school for 16 years of my life, my body and mind are trained to want a fresh start every September. I'm sure my body and mind also have been trained to expect complete disappointment in October.
Months into the school year, the wave of entropy and chaos that is being a child came crashing down on all my well-laid plans.
I had doodled all over my new square pink eraser and probably somehow dropped it in a beverage or other body of water so that it didn't really work anymore.
When I opened my desk, I was confronted with a mangled ocean of returned homework assignments, all the subjects mixing freely together, that I had to push aside to find my math book.
The temple was coming down around me, to use a Samson metaphor. I would accept the inevitable and promise myself things would be better next year, in the fourth grade.