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The Family Room by Michelle Martin

September 13, 2009

A new year

I’ve always thought the real New Year should be in September, or maybe at the end of August.

That’s when the school year starts, and that’s the time for fresh starts for children, teachers and parents. It’s the time when markers have not run dry, or had their colors muddied with other colors, when no one is running short of loose leaf paper and the pencils all still have their erasers.

There’s a kind of pleasant nervous buzz about the first few days of school: who will sit next to who? Which teacher will be hard? Which will be funny? Whose class should you never act up in?

Of course, you can probably tell that I liked school. I liked the summer too – don’t get me wrong, the more easygoing days provided a welcome change of pace – but the beginning of each new school year made me feel like I could take on the world.

For the most part, my expectations came true. There were troubles, of course. Friendships shifted and people sometimes disappointed. It wasn’t in school that I first learned that not everyone would be nice to me, my early school years drove the point home.

But I also learned that most people would be nice, to me and just about everybody else. I learned that books contained whole new worlds to explore, new people whose characters I could try on for as long as I was reading. Math helped the world make sense: two and two are always four, the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter is always pi and the number system is always infinite.

My kids seem to have some of the same feelings about school. The night before the first day, they were nervous about everything new – Caroline, in sixth grade, started middle school, which means several new teachers and new responsibilities and Frank, in third grade, is seeing the academic work ramp up – but they were also eager.

They were in school for almost two weeks before Labor Day, but by the time the threeday weekend rolled around, they were still liking it. The day after Labor Day, they weren’t so happy about having to put on uniforms for the first time.

I worry about the kids who don’t like school, who don’t have the confidence that they can master whatever comes at them, who don’t trust the adults to have their best interests at heart and to make sure they learn what they need to know. I’m grateful my kids look forward to school (even if they complain about getting up early) but I know that’s not true for everyone.

So as this school year begins, my prayer is for all the students – the ones who like school and the ones who have a hard time with it – that they will do the best they can with this year, growing stronger in faith and confidence as they master the classwork and outgrow their shoes.

Martin is assistant editor of the Catholic New World. Contact her at [email protected].