Elise on the first day of eighth grade in 1969, anxious as usual.

by Elise Seyfried

It’s back-to-school time! So many happy memories! Having a tug-of-war with another crazed mom in the aisle at Staples over the last four-inch binder in the tri-state area! The chore of attempting (and attempting, and attempting) to waken my grouchy kids after a sleep-in summer! Filling out endless paperwork for all my little students the morning everything was due. (I always hastily listed my nicest neighbor’s information as our “emergency contact,” figuring I’d ask her permission later!)

Oh, wait. HAPPY memories?

Never mind.

Seriously, though, September always produces intense anxiety in me. As a child, I dreaded getting used to a new classroom and a new teacher. I would have fared much better as a resident of the Little House on the Prairie with the same predictable schoolmarm for eight straight years. Instead, as soon as I learned the ways of my fourth grade teacher, a sweet 19-year-old Irish nun named Sister Mary Brendan, it was time to acclimate myself to the stern and forbidding Miss Hibbard in fifth.

Things never really improved, as I had to meet and then bid farewell to a dizzying succession of instructors. Even in college, I would haunt the halls hoping to catch a glimpse of my really nice German teacher while steering clear of my brilliant philosophy professor. (I still have nightmares about the assignment: “Discuss Anselm’s ontological argument, then present your own proof of the existence of God.” Hey, Anselm was a good guy! Why couldn’t I just take his word for it?)

I work in a church, and our program year begins in September. While I no longer have to shop for school supplies, I do have to order Confirmation curriculum; I must beg and plead and call in favors to fill in my Sunday School teacher roster.

I get very nostalgic for the way things used to be, when saintly Mr. and Mrs. Dome taught second grade Sunday School for over 30 years. (My kids fondly remember the chocolate donuts they doled out each week; I fear they are less sharp on the Bible stories.) But I know the culture has changed, churchgoing has declined all over, and to survive we need to be looking at new ways of doing spiritual formation. More anxiety!

But I do try to calm myself and count my blessings; no one in the house is applying to college this year, for example. Nobody is bringing home a “Friday folder” with the week’s math tests and spelling papers for me to look over and sign either. I haven’t packed a school lunch in years; no more running out of string cheese and peanut butter and that horrible yogurt you squeeze from a tube.

No more time consuming and “clever” book report assignments. (In third grade, the teacher fad was Book Report in a Can: empty aluminum cans that had to be covered with paper, then decorated with scenes from “The Indian in the Cupboard.” SO much work! And the kids even did a little bit of it too!)

My grandsons Aiden and Peter are too young for homework and gym uniforms but not for long. All too soon my grandchildren will be boarding that big yellow school bus, but — and here’s the difference — I won’t be the one getting them ready! Good luck, Mom Ya-Jhu and Dad Sheridan!

Next week, when school is back in session, maybe I’ll drive over to Jarrettown Elementary at dismissal and just sit in the car pool line for a while, for old times’ sake. I may shed a tear as I remember my children, who used to clamber into the back seat, talking eagerly and breathlessly about what happened at recess. But after that, I will dry my eyes and give thanks that we all got through those crazy, exhausting years. And as I do, maybe I’ll finally let go of my anxiety, which after all never did anyone any good, and learn at last to enjoy September.

Not going anywhere NEAR Staples, though.

Elise Seyfried is Director of Spiritual Formation at Christ’s Lutheran Church in Oreland. She is also an actress, wife, mother of five and co-author (with husband, Steve) of 15 plays for children. She can be contacted through www.eliseseyfried.com.