COLUMN: School days spring fresh every fall

This is my weekly column for the Sunday, Aug. 29, 2010 edition of the Hibbing Daily Tribune. A version of this piece ran in Saturday’s edition of “Between You and Me” on 91.7 KAXE.

School days spring fresh every fall
By Aaron J. Brown

You have to love the unbending reality of seasons. A mere human can’t change the weather and holds only minimal ability to survive any given time of year without help from clothes and technology. Hot is hot. Cold is cold. The exponential power of wind may prevent walking even the shortest distance when the wind chooses. Seasons remind us that it’s not all about us. It’s about the world in which we live.

This is why I’ve enjoyed working in education these past several years. The American school year may be a vestigial reminder of our agrarian roots, but it serves to provide every citizen with an internal clock that ticks away the seasons for the rest of our lives. Those in education are always reminded of this clock. The clock tolled again for me this past week with the start of fall classes at our community college. Not everyone gets a beginning and an end to a work year, or at least benchmarks more interesting than the filing of fiscal reports and sales figures. For some, like the postal worker Newman from “Seinfeld,” “the mail just keeps coming.” Students and educators enjoy a starting gun and finish line, and it’s a special privilege.

But this year the bell tolls for another member of our household as our oldest son Henry prepares for kindergarten next week. Prepare might be a strong word because other than occasional work with letter worksheets and whatever he gleans from TV Henry is by and large conducting his normal routine. He knows he’s going to kindergarten but thus far the discussion has mostly focused on whether he’ll eat hot lunch or bring “regular lunch” in a box.

And it occurs to me that Henry is now old enough where my pontificating about the significance of his childhood isn’t doing him any favors. So enough with that. In truth any parent who reads into this sort of thing is really playing out their own memories and insecurities about school. Added to that is the realization of mortality, that young parents become regular parents when their kids go to school, and we’re all going to die, just like all the old parents in the local obituaries. But there’s the seasons again. It’s good to know what you can and can’t control.

I used to think I could control my emotions at times like this. That was until OfficeMax began lobbing bombs at my tear ducts with a TV commercial tailor-made to force new kindergarten parents cry, smile, laugh and then buy reams of paper and enough colored pencils to fill a whisky barrel. Some touching song plays while a bunch of kids get on the bus, again and again, different kids each like snowflakes and, well, here we are again.

The first time I got on a bus to go to school I was wearing a homemade pair of pants, shirt and jacket, with a homemade backpack and a Muppets lunchbox. In my memory I got on the bus the first day of school but my mother has since reminded me that the bus driver forgot us the first day, turning around just past our driveway and missing us again. Mom drove me to school in the station wagon with my younger sisters in the back, still in pajamas. It was actually the SECOND day of school that I remember climbing the steps of the bus looking for a friend and some comfort in a large, changing world. That bus rode straight and true to school, where the smell of fresh floor wax blended with the peanut butter and jelly sandwich lofting out of that lunchbox at midday. To this day the new floor wax at work conjures the phantom odor of peanut butter, and adrenaline, and the excitement of another chance for a new beginning. I hope this one is the best one yet.

Aaron J. Brown is an Iron Range writer, blogger and an instructor at Hibbing Community College. Read more at or in his book “Overburden: Modern Life on the Iron Range.”

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