There are things I miss about school.
How life was broken into 180-day cycles — and even smaller ones, tidier ones. First quarter. Second quarter. First semester. Second semester.
My high school locker, where friends would congregate or slip notes or slam for me when I’d forgotten to shut it.
Fall play season. Staying late with my friends to run lines, ordering Chinese take-out when our rehearsals stretched too long. The exhilaration of looking out into the audience and seeing my parents’ faces. That harsh glare of the spotlight, obliterating anything except what was directly in front of me.
A fresh pack of crayons. A blank “Barbie” coloring book.
Meeting new teachers — one that would push me, inspire me. Ones I would irritate me. Ones that would greatly help me.
Stacks of college-ruled paper. Carefully printing my name at the top of each page.
Seeing your buddies for the first time after summer vacation, taking stock of how tall or tanned they’d gotten. Trading vacation stories. Resuming your call-every-afternoon-to-rehash-the-school-day routines.
Now five years out of college and nine from public school (!), I guess I’m allowed to wax philosophical about the whole experience. School wasn’t always a breeze, that’s for sure — and it’s easy to slip on my rose-colored glasses and forget the tough moments. Like algebra and difficult teachers. Peer pressure. Feeling left out.
But for me? The good moments crowd out the bad ones. I look back on my school days with curly, pink-hued nostalgia, remembering the thrill of selecting first day of school outfits and organizing my school planner. It will come as a shock to absolutely no one to learn I once made lists upon lists of every assignment to complete, every phone call to return. And since my school days existed pre-Facebook, text messaging and Twitter, the only way to get in touch with friends over the summer was to call or write them a letter. I probably still have most of them.
As a working adult, the weeks stretch on without end. I live for vacations, planning the next one while still away on the first. My weekends are precious real estate, planned to maximize every free moment, and I cherish the time I’m up and away from my familiar, well-loved desk.
Summer ending means nothing more than switching my linen crop pants for slacks. Flats for boots. Tanks for cardigans. It means turning off the tiny fan by my desk and slipping a blanket over my lap. Seeing coworkers return from their summer vacations, all of us hunkered down together with our vacation time gone — eagerly waiting for Christmas. Needing a break.
Since I’m not in school anymore, kids returning to the classroom has little significance to me — but I still acknowledge it. When Target pushes out their school supplies, I flip through the stacks of folders and colorful pens. Hot August pushes into sunny September, and I remember my own days in countless classrooms and how it felt to spot your high school crush for the first time since June. A sense that this could be the year. A delirium, bright and irrepressible, that anything is possible.
My mom always laughs as she tells a story about her grandmother, my great-grandmother, who would often look in the mirror and joke, “Who is that old woman?”
“What you look like on the outside doesn’t match what you feel on the inside,” Mom says. “You feel the same as you always have. You just look different.”
So sometimes I’m 10 again, or 15, or 20. Sometimes I’m in a lecture hall at the University of Maryland or on my elementary school playground — a stone’s throw away from my grandparents’ house. Sometimes I’m hoofin’ it across my college campus or slamming my middle school locker, sliding into home economics class or writing a Spanish paper at my first love’s apartment.
These moments all live inside me, jostling against one another. They overlap. They war and twist and turn, pushing me in and out of the present, and it’s not a stretch to feel like my school backpack has landed heavy over my shoulders again.
But then I grab my car keys, my Diet Coke, a paperback for my lunch hour. I’m snorting with laughter at a text from my boyfriend, counting down the minutes until the work day is over — the time when I’ll meet my family for dinner or take a walk with Spencer. I write. I read tons of books. I earn money at a job, one I really like, and I’m paid to write for a living — a fact that would astonish 7-year-old me. And I can eat dessert for dinner.
My time is my own — no mention of essays or math problems. No assignments or worries. No homework.
And ice cream for dinner is sounding pretty good right about now.