“But honey, you have to go back…You’re the teacher,” my husband stated, at which point I plopped my head into my hands on the picnic table and sobbed.
Please don’t get me wrong—I love teaching! I love my middle school students! I love reading and writing! But what kids often don’t consider is that teachers love summer vacation just as much as they do. (We love snow days, too!) And once we get past that first day back, we quickly get accustomed to the new routine, but the end of summer is just such a hard transition for students and teachers alike.
Our children, Lucas, age ten, and Hanna, seven, cried into their Labor Day hamburgers, too. “I thought this was supposed to be a party,” they both lamented. That’s when I realized my kids were right. We should be celebrating! Celebrating the wonderful moments we shared together this summer. The small blessings we don’t want to take for granted. The beginning of a new adventure. That’s when I recalled one of our favorite books—I’m in Charge of Celebrations by Byrd Baylor, and so this September, the kids and I excitedly began planning.
Your first homework assignment is to enjoy yourself at the Solej’s Back-to-School Celebration, the invitation read. We decorated with party supplies in our school colors and prepared a menu to rival any school cafeteria. The best part of the celebration though, everyone agreed, was the “Time to Get Ready for School” game: “Okay, kids,” I whispered, “time to get a good night’s sleep before the first day of school.” They settled down on the plush grass, closed their eyes, and the next few seconds were the only moments of quiet during the entire party.
RING RING RING! Imitating the sound of an alarm clock, I “woke” them abruptly. They all popped up with excitement and mimed the morning routine: washing up, brushing teeth, and combing hair.
RING RING RING! “Time for breakfast,” I called. The kids sprinted across the lawn to the picnic table set up as a buffet with a dozen different kinds of cereal. They happily munched and sampled and munched some more. What a feast that turned out to be!
RING RING RING! “Time to get dressed for school!” I directed the boys to a blue bag and the girls to a pink bag, both filled with clothes. The looks on their faces was priceless when the boys noticed their bag was filled with frilly dresses; the girls held up baggy pants in disbelief. The shock wore off quickly though. Since they were already in such great spirits, they went along with whatever the game had in store for them.
RING RING RING! “Picture time! We must get a picture of you all dressed up for your first day of school,” I announced as the shock returned to their faces for just another moment, but surprisingly, they hammed it up for the camera. I kept snapping away and ended up with the wackiest photos (which, many school years from now, may just have to somehow make a surprise appearance in their high school yearbooks).
RING RING RING! “Gather your school supplies!” The kids scouted all over the yard, laughing as they tried to run in too-big trousers and too-tight skirts; hunting for prizes of colorful pencils and new notebooks.
RING RING RING! “Hurry, catch the bus!” For this last leg of the game, the kids quickly paired up: one pretending to be the bus and the other going for a ride across the yard to the sandbox. Big brothers crawled on hands and knees as little sisters climbed on their backs; friends jumped at the chance for piggyback rides; some even scooped each other up onto their shoulders like the “firefighter’s carry,” but no matter how they got there, they all had fun in the process and realized how a positive attitude can go a long way in helping to get through that first day back to school, no matter what craziness life throws in our direction.
The kids built up quite an appetite at this point. The barbeque grill had not even cooled down when they were all ready for cake. White frosting covered in sprinkles like an explosion of confetti, we gathered around the table and began the countdown: 10…(we all shouted) 9…8…7…(only one more week until school) 6…5…4…(here we go) 3…2…1…HAPPY SCHOOL YEAR! The cheering could be heard by all our neighbors (who didn’t mind a bit) as we passed generous slices of cake to all our guests.
What a wonderful way to ring in the New Year! And to think, this all started with a question from a child. Now Lucas and Hanna want to make this celebration a yearly tradition, and I agreed based on such a measure of success as this: that sixteen friends and their parents joined us on that beautiful September afternoon in our back yard, and this year, not one of them cried into their Labor Day hamburger.