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Looking back on back to school

My childhood differs from most. I was one of those rare kids who actually looked forward to going back to school.

Don’t get me wrong, I relished my summers of infinite games of freeze tag at the park and lounging on my Aladdin beach towel at the community pool, but as the final days of August approached and back-to-school commercials seemed to interrupt every television show, I couldn’t help but feel a familiar twinge of excitement. I looked forward to opening my new box of crayons (always Crayola, never Rose Art) and notebooks full of fresh white pages. In the third grade, I could not wait to trade in my pencils for pens. It was the year we would practice our cursive in ink.

So in my early post-college years, I cannot help but feel nostalgic as I wander through the school supply aisles. I am flooded with back-to-school memories, the good, the ugly and the downright embarrassing.

In elementary school, I would call my best friend the night before class to coordinate matching back-to-school outfits. A few years later, I would call that same friend to ensure we would not be caught dead wearing similar clothes. Each new school year offered a chance to redefine myself. I will never forget the fall I finally got to trade in my coke-bottle glasses for contacts.

There are, of course, the school years I wish I did not remember: the year I thought polyester jumpsuits cool, the year I attempted to cut my hair into a wedge to look like Demi Moore in “Ghost,” and the multiple years I showed up to school with thick curly bangs – way before bangs regained their popularity.

Still, throughout all these trials and triumphs, there is a first day that I recall more sharply than the others: the first day of high school.

As eighth graders, we fell prey to the wild rumors of what lay ahead for us as freshman. There were the hackneyed threats of being paddled on Freshman Friday, but also the more imaginative tales. I fell hook, line and sinker for the lie I was told about gym class, where we were forced to clear hurdles on the track every day or we failed the class. I began stretching in preparation as early as July.

Yet as we prepared to enter a new school, I had more to dread than my ninth-grade peers. I was living every teenager’s worst nightmare. I had a mother who worked at my school.

That summer, I did what every mature young adult would do in my situation and begged my mother to quit her job immediately. She pointed out that she had been there first, and besides, in a school as large as Hamburg High, we would likely never run into each other. I prayed to every deity I knew of that she was right.

On the first day of high school I sauntered past the seniors with my head held high (and unfortunately, my bangs still curled). Everything was going smoothly – I had on a brand new skirt, already saw my friends and most importantly, there was no sign of my mother.

Then I reached my locker. No matter how many times I dialed the combination, the rectangular metal prison would not open. As I fumbled with the lock, desperately trying to play it cool in front of the upperclassmen flanking me, I heard an all too familiar voice.

“Catherine, do you need help? Should I call the janitor?” My mother hovered over me wearing a concerned expression. I wanted nothing more than to run and hide behind the tubas in the band room.

“No, thank you Mrs. Col-mer-auer,” I feigned difficulty with the name that I shared for the past 14 years. “I will be fine, you can go back to work.” My mother took the hint.

I thought I would never survive that day, but miraculously I did and the many days after. By the time senior year came I embraced sharing the school with my mother, who would generously run home for a book I forgot or give me rides to a friend’s house after school.

Whether you are a student, teacher or parent, may you have a successful first day of school. And remember, leave the polyester jumpsuit at home.

Catherine Colmerauer is a reporter for The Sun. She welcomes emails at

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