I walked my youngest to this bus stop this week on the first day of school. Poor kids. They were moving slow, with slumped shoulders, like they were headed to the guillotine. Poor parents, too. With kids so sad, how can you not follow suit? It's a big bus stop, with maybe 20 kids and parents. We were a subdued, reflective bunch.
But a funny thing happened on the way to collective depression.
The kids began to climb aboard the bus. We waved and shouted our wishes for a good day, a great year, fun and friends.
And then the door closed.
That's when a round of spontaneous cheers erupted. There were high-fives. One mom performed a victory gavotte of sorts. And a battle cry went up: "party at our house!"
The exhilarationparticularly heady among those with larger numbers of children--was palpable. It was also a relief, considering. We live in an age of the parental preen, where people flap their gums over their uncompromising dedication to their children and don't leave much room for complexity or imperfection. Even if, as in this case, the ambivalence comes across in partial jest, you run the risk of being pilloried. It's almost like there is a mystical energy field surrounding these self-serious parents, one that allows them to take everything about child rearing earnestly and in stride.
In reality and despite the temptation, no one at the bus stop magically transformed into a Good Time Charlie, partying the morning away. Everyone was off to workor to make good use of the free time in places like Yoga.
And of course, as is the case in all facets of modern parentingthere was not total agreement either. Another parent said she wasn't in the mood to party. She offered to set up an alternative "cry house."
But me? Given a literal choice, I would've headed straight to the party house. These kids (and I have three, which puts me into the larger children camp) are hardly going off to war. It's just six hours of glitter and glue. Having them at school makes my wife and my work-child juggling act immeasurably easier. Plus, kids weren't meant to be idle for too long.
In the end, it was just a moment caught in time. Though spontaneous and thus heartfelt, we didn't act on our instincts to party...or cry, for that matter. But given the choice, would you have joined me in the neighborhood party house on the first day of school? Or not? Why? Can't wait to hear what you have to say on this one. I'll get back to you as soon as possible.
Marek Fuchs is the author of "A Cold-Blooded Business," the true story of a murderer, from Westchester, who almost got away with it. His upcoming book on volunteer firefighting across America, Local Heroes, is due out in 2012. He wrote The New York Times' "County Lines" column about life in Westchester for six years and teaches non-fiction writing at Sarah Lawrence College, in Bronxville. He also serves as a volunteer firefighter. You can contact Marek through his website: www.marekfuchs.com or on Twitter: @MarekFuchs.
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