I suppose we’re entering the home stretch, though it seems awfully early in the summer for a new school year to be starting.
This week our two youngest sons begin their senior and junior years of high school. Barring some sort of momentous set-back (and not including college), we’re down to only two more first days of school in our house.
It does not now seem so long ago that I followed little boys through elementary school halls and snapped pictures of them entering their classrooms for the first time, though there were days, months, and even years along the way that seemed to drag on forever.
With one son graduated and in college and the other two within sniffing distance of the end, I can say that Jean and I are greeting the first day of school this year with complete apathy.
We made no start-of-school shopping spree. I’ve dug last year’s backpacks out of a corner of the garage, emptied them of last year’s unfinished homework assignments and beat them with a broom to knock off the summer’s cobwebs and dust. Jean has sorted the socks into piles of one- and two-toe holes and those with three or more toe holes. If a foot can slide all the way through the sock, she’s tossing the sock in the trash. If only one or two toes peek out the end, those are their first-day-of-school socks.
Let’s be real, sending the boys to school with holes in their socks is infinitely easier than venturing into the vast wasteland of Walmart to buy new socks for school.
Over the years, I’ve given a lot of eve-of-school speeches to my sons. This year I don’t really have it in me.
Every year I gave them what I called the “doors of opportunity” speech, and I talked to them about clean slates and making the most of the chance to learn and broadening their horizons. But our oldest son, Harrison, kind of ruined the doors of opportunity speech a few weeks ago.
In passing, I mentioned to Harrison my trademarked “doors of opportunity” speech and he said, “Doors of what?”
“The doors of opportunity speech,” I said.
“I don’t know what that is,” Harrison said. Harrison is 21-years-old. He’s heard the doors of opportunity speech every eve-of-school since he was six years old. That speech is old enough to have its learner’s permit. I have given that speech so many times that I now do it while taking a nap on the couch.
Flabbergasted, I reminded him: “Harrison, it’s the lecture I’ve given you and your brothers every year since you started first grade. The one where I talk about how you have in front of you a wall with hundreds of doors that are standing wide open, and every decision you make has the ability to close or leave open one of those doors. When you choose to ignore your chemistry homework, you potentially close the door to becoming a chemist on day. When you choose to play soccer rather than football, you close the door to possibly being a professional football player. When you taken an interest in history and study it, you leave open the door to being Indiana Jones when you grow up.”
Harrison stared at me with a blank look on his face.
“I always say that you should do whatever you can to keep as many of those doors open as long as possible, because you don’t know what might interest you when you get older and what you might want to pursue as a career.”
Still, he simply shrugged his shoulders and said he did not know what I was talking about.
I looked to Jean for help.
“Every year, the night before school started, your dad sat you and your brothers down to talk to you. Do you remember that?” Jean asked.
“Sure,” Harrison said.
“Do you remember what he talked about when he sat you down and talked to you?” she asked.
Harrison’s eyes rolled around in his head while he tried to concentrate and summon up memories from his childhood. “Not really,” he confessed.
I threw my hands up in frustration and stomped out of the room.
So you can’t blame me if I greet the new school year with a certain apathy. When I counted up the times that Harrison had ignored my impassioned pleas, he beat me down. Harrison stole from his younger brothers all the “care” I had to give. Having a 21-year-old son has left me apathetic and disinterested in the futures of his younger brothers.
Out of curiosity, I asked Nathan, who is starting his senior year tomorrow, about the “doors of opportunity” speech.
“If I said I was going to give you the ‘doors of opportunity’ speech today, would you know what I was talking about?” I asked Nate.
He stretched and yawned because it was noon and he was just getting out of bed – making the most of his last day of summer vacation.
“Yeah,” he said. “It’s the speech you’ve given me a dozen times about not closing doors.”
Nathan is a good boy who listens to his father, and it serves no purpose to give him the speech one last time because he always leaves the back door standing wide open, so I know how he misinterprets the speech.
It would be equally pointless to give Robert the speech. Robert, who is stubborn like his mother, cannot be told anything.
“I don’t need opportunity,” Robert says. “I’ll do whatever I want.”
So you won’t catch us out buying new backpacks, and neither will you see us lamenting the years that have passed. We’re well beyond getting excited about buying school supplies, and I won’t even bother giving them a speech (though I will probably take a nap).
But there is one thing about the coming school year that has me a little excited.
Never before in the history of Peechers attending Oconee County schools has there ever been a time when one teacher had to endure two Peechers in one class.
But this year, through some sort of colossal administrative error, that run will be broken.
Nathan and Robert have a French class together. Though they typically get along pretty well for brothers separated by only 18 months, Nathan and Robert do have a tendency from time-to-time to aggravate hell out of each other and anyone within any proximity. It is all but guaranteed to produce hilarious dinnertime stories of what happened at school today.
How do you say, “Quit punching your brother!” in French?
Rob Peecher is author of “Four Things My Wife Hates About Mornings” and the often-heard, never remembered “Doors of Opportunity” speech.