Lessons learned from the first day of school

Tracy Grant / The Washington Post /

Let’s start with a riddle: When is a first day of school also a last?

It is when, after 13 years, your erstwhile kindergartners are high school seniors and you’re getting ready to send them off for one last first.

Here are some reflections and advice from a veteran of 12 first days of school on this bittersweet occasion.

• First-day photos. I take them every year. Sometimes on the front porch, sometimes on the back. Looking back, I wish we had picked one location and one pose and replicated it exactly each year. The result would have made for a fantastic flip book.

•Uniforms. As someone who sent her kids to Catholic school, I have stood on the sidelines, listening to other parents grumble about fights over what’s acceptable to wear and the cost of buying the latest trend. If your public school mounts a campaign to bring in uniforms, support it. Better yet, start one yourself. I never spent as much money on school clothes as my public-school counterparts did. The quality is better and, best of all, there are no arguments in the morning.

* School buses. I have often worried that my kids missed out on a quintessential school experience: riding the school bus. I have always driven my kids to school, and although they don’t get the interaction with their peers, it has proved to be invaluable parent-child time. It was in the car on the way to school when second-grader Andrew announced, “Mom, do you realize that at one time, black kids and white kids couldn’t go to the same school? That would mean we wouldn’t have Diane-Marie or Marc Draven in our class. How stupid is that?” In the car I could be a fly on the wall, listening to my sons’ interactions with each other and with their friends.

• Music. My boys played trombone in the school band for three years. When they pushed to quit the band, I relented and music education largely ceased. I don’t regret letting them give up on band, but I wish I had pushed for a musical substitute: piano or guitar, perhaps. I’m pretty certain they’ll regret not playing an instrument when they get older.

• Reading. Of course, you have to do it when your kids are just learning to read. You’ll agonize with them about sounding out words and using context clues. But too often, we help our kids master the tools they need to read and then, just when it gets good, just when they are about to discover the magic of reading, we drop it as a shared experience. Read “Harry Potter” or “Narnia” together. Reading can be a family touchstone.

• Math. The only thing worse than helping with math homework is realizing that you can no longer help with math homework.

Boy, they sure do grow up quickly. There, I’ve said it, but, boy, is it true.

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