Back to School


Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve always loved the last couple of weeks during our long, long summer vacations from school. It was the time when the sun just seemed different – warm, still, but the light started to have a slightly different tint, and there always seemed to be a little breeze here and there, forecasting the arrival of fall: my favorite season.

More than anything, though, I loved that time because it hailed the arrival of a much-anticipated event: back-to-school shopping! My mother, who was quite frugal and certainly didn’t just give me a wad of money to blow on the latest gimmick, would nonetheless be cajoled into springing for a new pencil case (“But Mo-ooom! Mine has a broken zii-iipper! [insert pouting and whining] – my mother was only human, after all) and a brand-new, shiny planner from a popular clothing brand that just happened to cater to teenage girls dying to commit their innermost thoughts in between homework assignments and magazine clippings of their favorite boy-bands.

Then there were new notebooks – always new notebooks! – and the “fun” thing was that some teachers specified a particular kind, size and style, while other classes left it up to the students to choose…leaving it entirely up to YOU (read: your parents) what you might end up with. Inevitably, throughout the school year, my notebooks would end up with a bunch of doodles on and inside the covers, and it would probably not be entirely inaccurate to guestimate that about 1/3 of the paper inside ended up getting used to pass notes, re-write song lyrics or draw to avoid falling asleep during an especially doze-worthy installment of English class.

I relished college because, within the budgetary constraints set by my monthly allowance for books, food and other incidentals, I could go completely crazy on paper products – and what better excuse than to do so in the furtherance of one’s education? My favorite purchase became a beautiful, glossy and brightly colored plaid set of Unicef notebooks – which I filled with copious notes and still have.

To this day, I adore this time of the year – even though, at present, it’s somewhat bittersweet as I continue to hope that, some day in the future, it will be I who will be doing the back-to-school shopping with my own children. (Thankfully Justin Bieber, Taylor Lautner et al will be MUCH too old for anyone to care. Phew. I’d like to think any offspring of mine would have more sense but…you never know. Looking through my own school planners, there are definitely some questionable “heartthrobs” in there.)

One of my all-time favorite movies is “You’ve Got Mail” – and I think one of the reasons I so adore this movie (aside from the obvious reasons) isn’t just because I love New York City (who doesn’t?), and because movies in the 90s just seemed so much more optimistic than a lot of what makes it to the big screen these days (if I have to sit through one more preview for yet another movies featuring or combining zombie/apocalypse, crude slap-stick and/or profanity that would make a drunken rugby player go to confession, I’m seriously going to projectile-vomit over the next person to say “True Blood”).

But I also love “You’ve Got Mail” because it starts off in the fall. Did I mention that I love the fall? Maybe I should mention it again? I LOVE the fall. There’s almost nothing I don’t love about it. It probably started with back-to-school shopping, complemented by cooling temperatures (it’s entirely possible that I’m part polar bear, though there’s nothing in my birth certificate to that effect – and my dad looks totally human once he’s had breakfast). My absolute favorite moment in the entire movie – and there are many – is when Tom Hanks elocutes the line he’s emailing Meg Ryan:

“I would send you a bouquet of newly sharpened pencils [sic].”

Whoever came up with that line should’ve written a dating book for nerds and bookworms – and random people like me (because, really, I’m too unique to be stereotyped or fit any one particular “label” – yes, I really, am that awesome), because seriously? That line would probably have made me swoon. Just typing it now makes me sigh, smile – and, somehow, want to buy #2 lead pencils (which my husband would hate because, for some reason, he hates pencils – talk about unique and random. I still love him, though, because as I’m typing this and want to make sure I remember correctly that the movie does, indeed, start out in the fall, he says to me “Yes, fall – pencils, remember?”. Picture me with a goofy, sappy smile because I love my husband for remembering all those little things that make me happy – even though they’re not important to anyone else.)

But there’s more! The end of summer also brings one of my other favorite rituals to the fore: the infamous September Issue. For as long as I’ve been remotely interested in fashion, the September Issue of Vogue has been my absolute favorite piece of printed material. Yes, most of it is advertising – but WHO CARES? You can have YOUR bible, I’ll have mine – thank you very much. The mere heft and enormity of it is completely commensurate with the significance of Vogue as a publication. To me, the September Issue’s size is also proportionate to just how much I adore fall fashions – especially in recent years, where peplums have met tweeds, teal has finally been given its much-deserved center-stage, and other jewel tones have appropriately displaced some of the drab monotones of the past. (Plus, “oxblood” may sound creepy but the color was stunning. I’m marking that as a classic.) I can honestly say that fall fashions make me absolutely giddy – even though I can’t afford most of it.

But there’s something about the congruence of children going back to school, fall fashion, dropping temperatures…something about all those things coming together at the same time, in the same season that brings us changing leaves and seasonal spices. It’s the season that makes me feel the most relaxed, the most hopeful, the most at peace with myself and my place in the world – even if I’m still far from where I want to be.

So I was completely aghast when, after settling into my favorite squishy armchair to read the current issue of “Real Simple” magazine, I came across what I can only describe as blasphemy with regard to my own personal belief system. May I direct you to the horror that caused me to gasp, audible, and exclaim a resounding (and extended) “NOOOOO!”, found on p. 41 “The End of Cursive?”

At this point, it bears relevance to divulge that I didn’t grow up on the Upper East Side (nothing could be further from the truth). I didn’t attend Miss Porter’s (though, if it were remotely possible, I would move heaven and earth to send any eventual female off-spring there – SIGH). I did, however, not only learn how to write cursive – I did so using a fountain pen. In fact, using a ballpoint pen and/or writing in anything other than cursive was frowned-upon in my school. Also now in my current, marital home are several fountain pens that mark the different colors and patterns I favored over the years – and though I’ll never have anywhere near the resources to obtain a coveted Mont Blanc, I STILL write mostly in cursive. Even if, now, I often resort to using ballpoint pens simple because they’re easier to carry in my purse (and less chance of a leaking ink cartridge).

But when I read the very short paragraph – that, quite frankly, felt very much like a moratorium on civilized behavior when I discovered the following:

“Cursive is not part of the Common Core State Standards, the recently established academic guidelines now adopted by 45 of the 50 states.”

I am, in short, appalled.

I kept on looking at the page – with its very apropos ink blot and fountain pen – and thought about just how barbaric I thought children my own age were, 20 years ago, when I chanced upon someone who didn’t own or use a fountain pen. I thought about the incidence, a few years ago, where someone told me she couldn’t read cursive – which made me wonder whether there were any visible signs of the apoplexy I experienced upon hearing this.

So this year, “back to school” comes with mixed emotions. Part of me relishes the advent of my favorite season – anticipating the pumpkin breads I’m going to bake and the wonderfully spicy smell that will spread through the house as they cool on the wire racks. Part of me is sad that I don’t have a child of my own yet – as I do throughout the year – wishing that I could snub all attempts to subdue civilized society by teaching OUR children to read and write cursive, read lots of books instead of being glued to a variety of hand-held electronic devices, and take a walk outside where, for all intents and purposes, life goes on very much the same way as every other year.

(NB: In case you’re wondering, I found the lovely picture for this rambling post on the following blog: – I figured it would be nice to give props since I don’t know where the photo originated.)


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