School Days, School Days

School days, school days
Dear old golden rule days,
Reading and ‘riting and ‘rithmetic,
Taught to the tune of a hickory stick
You were my queen in calico
I was your bashful, barefoot beau.
You wrote on my slate, “I Love You So”
When we were a couple of kids

From “School Days” by Will Cobb and Gus Edwards

I was singing this song all weekend, in a cheerful sort of way. June loves it, refers to it as “A Couple of Kids” and always wants me to sing it again when she hears it. It’s almost completely outdated, of course. Though Noah started third grade today and June goes back to preschool next week, she won’t be going in calico and we didn’t send him off to school barefoot. Reading and ‘riting and ‘rithmatic are still in the third-grade curriculum, of course, but I don’t think hickory sticks are part of the Montgomery County Public Schools disciplinary policy. (If they were we’d be looking into private schools or homeschooling.)

We attended the Open House at Noah’s school on Friday, meeting his morning teacher, Señor S, and his afternoon teacher, Ms. M. Noah hasn’t had a male teacher since he was in daycare and I’ve often thought it would be nice for him to have an adult male he sees on a daily basis. (His grandfathers and uncle all live out of state.) Ms. M seems very friendly, too. She informed us of an upcoming field trip to an environmental center and let us know that the third grade eats lunch at 10:45 (!) and recommended we send an afternoon snack along with lunch. Both Señor S and Ms. M are experienced teachers but new to the school, so we hope that doesn’t cause any bumps along the way. I don’t think it should.

“Meeting my teachers was more fun last year,” Noah complained as we were leaving the second classroom. I reminded him that last year he was very nervous about starting second grade (some older kids had told him that all the second grade teachers were mean) so meeting the teachers and seeing his friends probably put his mind at ease and made him feel happy. He’s not nervous this year and neither are we. (Two years ago Beth and I were on eggshells when Noah was starting first grade because of his rough kindergarten year.) This year, going back to school is just plain anticlimactic. It’s so routine that Noah doesn’t even remember the anxiety that was eating him up this time last year. “Really?” he said when I mentioned it. He’s most excited about being one of the big kids, in the upper half of the school.

After the Open House, we headed over to Sasha’s house for the pool party. The kids splashed in the pool, the adults sat and talked and everyone ate. It was nice to see so many of Noah’s friends’ parents we hadn’t seen in a while. People updated each other on their summers and commiserated about the difficulty of packing lunches that our children probably won’t touch anyway because who eats lunch at 10:45?

The pool is above ground, all one depth and too deep for June. I knew this so I arrived in my suit so I could take her in despite the cool, overcast weather. After a while she was shivering and blue-lipped, so I took her out and wrapped her up in a towel, over her loud protests. She was consoled by the presence of watermelon and macaroni and cheese and cheese puffs and cupcakes with blue frosting and sprinkles. As more and more guests arrived bearing food, I realized with a sinking feeling that the party must have been a potluck. I hadn’t looked at the invitation recently and we’d shown up empty-handed. I apologized to Sasha’s folks, who good-naturedly pointed out there was no shortage of food.

There were a lot of kids in the pool and the roughhousing got out of control on several occasions. I noticed Noah hanging back when it did. One of the moms who spent a lot of time volunteering in his class last year noticed, too, and said he was one of the gentler boys in his class. At first I found it an odd remark because he does like to run around and crash into things and he often plays too roughly with June and back in kindergarten he had a reputation as an unruly, hard-to-control kid. But while he likes physical play and one-on-one wrestling with his friends, he’s often uncomfortable when things get wild in large groups of kids. He’s never really liked to run in a pack like so many boys do, unless there’s a controlling narrative (as at his pirate party). Anyway, it was interesting to get another perspective on him, especially from a mom I barely know.

On Saturday afternoon, we had Sasha over for a long play date. He came over at 2:00 and we took him with us when we went out to dinner at Plato’s Dinner in College Park ( and dropped him off at his house at 7:15. A couple weeks ago, Noah had an even longer play date with Elias. As summer vacation dwindled, we tried to squeeze in as much unstructured playtime as we could.

That evening Noah read the Spanish storybook he’d checked out of the library two weeks ago and that I’d asked him to read before school started. I’d resolved to have him read in Spanish this summer. He only ended up reading three picture books, all of them in the past month, but something’s better than nothing. If his Spanish is rusty, it will come back soon enough. And speaking of summer accomplishments, here are the ones I envisioned back in June:

Will he teach himself how to play the piano, memorize his times tables, read all thirteen Series of Unfortunate Events books, break his record for how many times he can dribble a rubber ball? Will he go a whole day or even a few hours without bickering with his sister?

Well, he hasn’t played the keyboard in a long time, he has the times tables almost but not quite down, he’s in the middle of Book 9 (The Carnivorous Carnival), he has doubled his dribbling record. I don’t think the kids ever went a few hours without quarrelling, but that might have been too much to ask because they played together this summer more than they ever had before. I’m satisfied with his summer, and I hope he is, too. He took a lot of scooter rides, became more confident in the water, built a robot and spent countless hours playing with his little sister.

It was difficult getting him out the door in time to catch the bus this morning, harder than I thought it would be. He was in day camp most of the summer after all. The last one ended only two weeks ago. But for whatever reason he needed a lot of prompting to finish his breakfast, brush his teeth and get dressed. As he approached the gate, he goofed around, pretending the canvas grocery bag loaded with the required composition books, tissues, hand sanitizer, scissors, glue, pencils, crayons and markers was heavier than it really was and that he could barely carry it. He was cheerful and full of nervous energy. Beth took him to the bus stop while June and I watched from the porch. I took her inside after a few minutes, though, because it was a chilly morning and she was clad only in a short-sleeved pajama top and underpants.

I started to run a bath for June and went around the house collecting diaper covers, towels and other laundry to put down the chute, trying to get into the swing of a regular Monday morning. When I heard the bus pull up, we ran back to the porch. We were just in time to see Noah board the bus and ride off to his first day of the second half of elementary school.