Back to school season is my favorite time of the year. Cool weather is on the horizon, my people are busy and happy and exhausted at bedtime, and my house is quiet again. I buy in whole-heartedly to the whispered promise of fresh notebooks and sharp pencils – anything is possible. This is the year I will clean the closets, train the dog, learn how to fold a fitted sheet. Hope springs eternal.
With six kids, back to school season is also a touch harried and over the top, if we’re being truthful. We bought more than 100 glue sticks this year – no lie. Apparently schools, desperate for funding, are turning to glues sticks to hold crumbling buildings together. The hunt for the right binder, color coded notebooks, and notecards of impossibly specific dimensions seems endless. By the time school starts, Gabe and I are exhausted. Unfortunately, that’s when the real work begins. Forms and extra-curricular enrollment and carpool set up and, and, and…and then there’s Back to School Nights.
Frankly, Back to School Nights are a logistical nightmare. This year, we have three separate ones on the same night. That night also has ballet and play rehearsal and carpool…tt makes me what to skip the night entirely. Feels like bad parenting not to go, but really, has BTS night ever changed the course of anyone’s life? Will they even know if I’m there? Still, I’ve never not gone. The paper says to be there at seven? We’re there at seven. I’m a rebel only in my mind.
Last night was Simon’s high school back to school night. Like many high schools’, the night starts with an assembly covering broad information and then turns the adults loose to follow their student’s schedules. We had 8 minutes per period, and six minutes to find our way to each class. I am immediately anxious about finding my way and hurrying to make sure I am on time. I’m not sure what happens to late parents, but I am sure as heck not going to find out.
Gabe and I meet Billy when we enter the auditorium, but we get separated as we begin moving toward the classes. We find ourselves alone in Simon’s first period. We fill out the nametags, our name and our student’s name, and greet the teacher.
Billy rolls in just before the bell, and introduces himself to the teacher on the fly. He sees her double take, and smiles. “Yeah, we’re all here for Simon.” “Big family,” I say. Other parents are looking at the three of us. Gabe and Billy lean back in their desks, legs outstretched. They look like seniors in the back of the class – confident and calm. We’ve done this before; we’re used to the attention our multiple adult to one kid ratio brings.
We greet people we know in the halls as we follow Simon’s schedule– Billy and I from the early days of our marriage in this town, Gabe and I from our church, Billy from his basketball league. We make introductions and ignore the double-takes. In Drama, Gabe is asked outright if he belongs to Simon, after Billy and I introduced ourselves as his parents. “I belong,” he asserts “I’m his stepdad.” We push on and find three seats together.
The night is a unique view into Simon’s life. He’s juggling college level math, AP history, show choir (reluctantly) and drivers ed, among other things. It’s clear that his teachers know him already, making us wonder for an instant if that’s a good thing on the second week of school.
We hear about how to review the agenda and notes from each day online, for every class. I am instantly overwhelmed – is anyone doing that for their sophomores? I vaguely remember a writing assignment he talked about – should I have read that? Helped him edit? With our huge crew, there’s no way we could carefully curate his high school experience. I’m remind myself this is his experience, his responsibility. We are simply allowed a peek at it tonight, in order to better understand the hours he spends in this place.
We’re there for Simon, paying attention and each interpreting what we hear and thinking about how it relates to our guy. Driver’s Ed covers the hours behind the wheel and log requirements. Gabe and Billy whisper that we’d better pick up four logs – one for each car our student driver will be practicing in. Billy jokes “and then we’ll have to fake it anyway – Simon will never be able to keep track of it for that long.” Gabe chuckles. Gabe’s excited about the college level math course Simon has enrolled in – a math major, he agrees with the professor that Simon should be able to do the math without the calculator. Billy and I spend that period trying not to make eye contact with the teacher, just in case there’s a parent pop quiz on sine and cosine.
Like so many things, this is not how I envisioned Back to School night. It’s certainly not the way others expect us to do it, judging by the looks and questions. But this is how we roll. It is not easy or simple; we have lots of history floating between us. But it is our choice. Each of us has a perspective on this kid, each of us contributes to his life uniquely, each of us love him fiercely. He is ours, and we are proudly his. And so, Team Simon rolls through the halls, asking questions, jotting notes and united by our boy.