Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - November 18, 2016

A different autumn

Husband Art and I had a somewhat helter-skelter start to our year, what with the deaths of Mom and several other family members, combined with traveling more than usual. Two trips to Europe and several to Wisconsin almost made it seem as if we were living elsewhere and visiting home. We’d barely have the laundry finished before we’d re-pack our bags and be off again.

Fall has felt odd as well, and I think it may be because of things that have sort of flown under the radar. One is that most of our autumn days have been unseasonably warm. It makes me think that the holidays are still a long way off, when in reality, Thanksgiving is at the doorstep.

But recently, another reason struck me. An article in the September Real Simple magazine brought it into focus:

Get back into your school routine. Back-to-school means something different for everyone: Second graders are excited to buy new backpacks, parents dread calendar wrangling, and college-bound freshmen are ready to embrace independence ...

This is the first fall for some time we have no children in school! Twenty-five years ago, we put daughter Mariya on the school bus to begin her year of kindergarten, and at least one of the girls has been a student every fall until daughter Katie graduated from Kansas State University last December. In between, there were a lot of construction-paper art projects, show-and-tell days, volleyball and basketball games, field trips, musical performances, grade cards, worry about kids driving to school, prom dates, parent-teacher conferences, tuition payments, K-State activities and much more.

I hadn’t realized until now how much our routine had revolved around school. Every August when the girls were little, we took their school lists and went to the store to buy pencils, crayons, rulers, notebooks and backpacks. We posted the school menus on the refrigerator and circled important dates on our calendars. Part of the ritual included buying new school clothes and shoes. Trips to visit relatives or to travel overseas had to be scheduled around the school calendar.

When they went to college, our involvement changed. We helped them move into their apartments, but they were responsible for buying their own books and supplies and managing their money and time. Still, since they were so close, we often heard about their classes and activities, and one or the other frequently joined us for lunch. But with both girls working full-time that happens rarely now.

We did have a deja-vu moment last Friday after entering the high school where both of the girls graduated. We were there to see the school musical, “Little Women.” A friend’s daughter had the lead. As we stepped through the doors, I was immediately taken back to the days when Mariya and Katie were performing. But this time, rather than sitting on the first or second row, we sat high in the bleachers. Neither of us was weighed down by a cameras as we were then. It was also a bit disconcerting to see so many familiar faces we either haven’t seen or have seen only rarely since our gals graduated.

Art taught college courses for 20 years and I’m beginning my 34th year as a professor at K-State. So it is probably not surprising both our girls became teachers. They speak often about the joys and challenges of the profession that we know so well. Mariya is an administrator in the K-State office that helps guide first-generation students through the collegiate world. But this semester she is also teaching a class related to the Harry Potter books. Katie just began her first year as a K-5 music teacher. Art and I watched her conduct her fifth grade concert a few weeks ago. It was very good, especially when considering most kids are bouncing off the walls at that age.

Those who know me well know I often refer to Ecclesiastes 3:1: "To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven." Our time having kids in school came and now has passed. It was a good time; still we enjoy not having to awaken early, worry about late-night driving or be concerned if tuition will go up again next year.

Yet every week day, as the sun starts coming into our bedroom window, I listen. On the street not far from our home, I can hear cars and trucks quietly passing by, carrying people to their jobs. But after years of practice, eventually I'll recognize the familiar sound of the rumbling school buses, coming for the children. It's a sound that is at once a bit sad, yet is also somehow comforting. While those days are over for us, they continue for others.

Top: Katie conducting her fifth grade choir. She is below the sixth singer from the right in the front row with her hands in the air; bottom: Mariya, far left, with her K-State class.

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