I’ve heard the question so many times, I dread it — even if it’s aimed at my daughters.
“Are you excited about school starting?”
School started last week for some area districts, with most remaining ones starting this week or the one after that. Apparently, adults talking to children in August decided that question is the easiest form of small talk. It’s the equivalent of talking about the weather with another adult.
Yet it’s a question so fraught with nuance when you think about it.
You’re asking people who haven’t had a lot of responsibilities if they’re anxious to return to full-scale busy-ness. I can’t imagine asking someone on the last day of a vacation if they’re excited about work starting again Monday.
You’re also making them predict a future with so many variables. Will they like the teacher? Will the mix of people in the class be enjoyable or frustrating? Do they like the classes they’ll take first thing in the morning? Will they be too tired at the end of the day to enjoy the things they do like?
There’s always the unknown. My 14-year-old daughter is moving from being king as an eighth-grader at her elementary to becoming a pawn as a freshman in her high school. Everything is new to her, including planning her day to make sure she has the right books with her at the right time while minimizing trips to her locker. She doesn’t know which classes will have friends in them, as she’s still learning her own schedule, much less her pals’.
There’s the reality that people grow and change over the summer. My 12-year-old daughter probably thinks she has a handle on going into eighth grade, where it’s her turn to rule the school. Still, the social structure in junior high is about as sturdy as the towers in the game “Angry Birds.” She’d be ignorant if she wasn’t a little concerned that something happened over the summer to alter her school’s hierarchy.
So much of enjoying school can fall on how much you connect with a teacher. My 7-year-old got along great with her past teachers, but there’s no promise her second-grade teacher will become her buddy too. This year’s classroom leader will emphasize different rules than last year’s. Some things may matter more; some will matter less. That’s a lot for a young mind to process.
When I’ve heard people inevitably ask my daughters about their excitement levels for school, I’ve tried to think back the 30-plus years since I was their age. There were so many emotions going through my head then: Optimism to dread to joy to ambivalence. Eventually, I realized the only way through it was through it.
I don’t know how I would’ve explained all those mixed feelings to the adults in my life when they asked if I was excited about school starting.
I suspect I’d answer like my own daughters do: “It’s OK, I guess.”