The Smell of New Crayons

Since I have been neglecting my blog, here is a reprint of a post I wrote last year at this time, when the only family members read my writing.

Emmy’s bedroom window has a front view from our house. As I was rocking her this morning, sunlight filtered through the trees and the air was a lovely 65 degrees. A perfect day. I heard the unmistakable clop CLOP….clop CLOP of a wagon being pulled along the sidewalk. There were no kids in the wagon; it was piled high with backpacks and bags. The kids were skipping ahead of the parents, talking excitedly. It’s the first day of school.

Two photos come to mind. The first, a small girl with blond curls grinning, holding nothing, next to her big sister with a gap-toothed grin, heading off to kindergarten. I was holding a small shoe box full of school supplies. In the next photo, both of us have decorated shoe boxes. My sister has a huge grin, because this time she gets to go to school, too! It was 1976, so there was no preschool in our small town in rural Illinois; no pre-Kindergarten, no playdates, Mommy and me or dance classes. Just run outside and play; that’s what the other moms are telling their kids, too, and come when Mom yells out the door. Scramble down that pine tree you’re not supposed to climb, even though your sappy fingers give you away. Grab your bike and pedal down the gravel alley, and throw it down in the driveway. Use your kickstand!

Those little shoe boxes were so different from the huge bags and backpacks I saw on their way to school today. Was the first day of school more exciting for us? We didn’t have the same experiences of kids today. The first day of Kindergarten literally was the first day of school. Lily starts preschool in September, but she has already attended several park district classes, both with me and without me. I don’t anticipate tears for either of us; she has been eagerly awaiting preschool.

As I watched the kids heading off to school this morning, there was an excitement in the air. I think the first day of school, regardless of past experiences, still is exciting to kids. Parents still grab their cameras to take that shot, and I hope I remember to do the same in a couple of weeks.

I became very nostalgic for that first day this morning. I thought of the teachers in their classrooms, reading through their plans one more time, placing welcome notes on the students’ desks and feeling small butterflies, even if this is your umpteenth year of teaching. That’s how I always felt on the first day of school, even after a decade of being a teacher. Welcoming a brand new set of students is so fun and exciting. I always thought that the first day of school made being a teacher fresh every year.

My first classroom was a corner room with a lot of windows. I would open them wide in the morning, and it felt delicious to have the cool air waft in. The wooden floors creaked with every step I took as I prepared for class. I had real slate blackboards, with a couple of big cracks in the corners, but in otherwise good condition. There were cast iron radiators against the walls which overheated the room in winter, and melted the crayons which fell behind them onto the window sills. That building still stands, but a new school was built in the field to the east, and my old classroom is no longer used for its original purpose.

I love being a stay-at-home mom for now. But some day, that new box of chalk smell will be very welcome, and I hope I will get butterflies in my stomach again as I welcome twenty little classmates into my classroom, on the first day of school.

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