Back to the Virtual Chalkboard

My children go back to school on Monday, which feels ridiculously early. I always associate the return to school with the return of Fall. So it seems, having barely experienced summer at all (last night it was 40 degrees in Indiana), that the seasons are turning again, and that winter will be here again all too soon.

There’s so much to do. The older boys need physicals. Everyone needs registering, and the school system has switched to online registration, which means sitting at the computer all day looking at login failures and various system malfunctions. Last year, I was fatigued by filling out 100 pages of consents and emergency contacts, but at least it was done once it was done. I didn’t have to log in to my piece of paper, and then watch it all erase when my login timed out.

I went into the actual middle school office today and asked if we could just register in person like we used to do, and they were very reluctant. “Have you tried logging onto powerschool? Do you have internet access? If not, there’s a technician in the computer lab who can walk you through it.” So I went to the computer lab, because that’s I think what I was really looking for, is someone else to talk me through this, to cheer me on and make sure I didn’t run off for another cup of coffee before it was all done.

I know it saves a lot of time and effort for the personnel at the school if parents can just do this stuff at home, fight their own technological battles– it’s not rocket science– but the thing is, I like coming into the school with my kids at the start of a new year. I want to scope out the other parents, watch the teachers assembling their bulletin boards, try out the darn old locker combination, which absolutely never works the first time. I want to overhear the school nurse complain to the secretary about how the guidance counselor is asking too much of her when she’s got so much to do already. This is the place where my children are going to spend a large portion of their time over the next nine months, and I want to smell it, feel it out, view the grownups who run it, and not go through another automated process for things that used to be annual rights of passage.

One thing I love about school is that it has its own rites and rituals, secular in nature, but they do affect your soul somehow, the way you attune your internal clock to an earlier bedtime, and an earlier rising, wait for the bus, or head to the car while there’s dew on the grass, and thin clouds of fog over the fields. Just the crowd of children walking through the same doors, the simultaneous forward motion of hundreds of children heading in one direction at the same time is a daily rite that builds fellow feeling.

It’s a simple bond, walking the same hallway as a classmate, or waking up in unison with about 80 percent of the community and driving to school, but over time, the community adopts a similar circadian rhythm. We look forward to the same short-term goals. The midterm exams, the Friday night games, and the PTO fundraisers get their own markings on thousands of calendars in thousands of homes. We’ll all be there. We’ll all come and pay our due diligence to the extracurricular life that springs up in the evenings and weekends surrounding our children’s education.

Or maybe we won’t. Maybe we’ll just log in to the school dance from home. Can I chaperone by Skype, I wonder?

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About Elizabeth Duffy