By Mike Levine
Editor's note: Mike Levine, former executive editor and columnist for the Times Herald-Record, wrote this column in 1996. Since then, we have rerun the column to mark the beginning of school. Mike Levine died in January 2007, but readers have asked for this column to be run again.
Quick, before they leave this morning. Take a good look. Touch their faces, run your hands through their hair.
We got antsy with them last month, but now we want time to stand still. Like falling leaves and chilly mornings, some great force signals us today. We are aware of life passing.
See the kindergartner with a brave, bewildered smile watching her mother cry as the school bus pulls away. The high-school freshman with a lump in his throat hears his father whisper everything will be OK. Brothers and sisters who fought all summer now hold hands.
Today is proud, today is helpless, today is tomorrow. This is a special morning, wrenching and sacred.
As a young reporter, I'd wonder why. What's the big deal about the first day of school?
I would write down quotes in my notebook and comprehend nothing.
Then I became a parent. I found out. We mark time by today.
On this morning, we remember our own parents and our own childhood. We are filled with the smell of old raincoats, the sticky bond of classroom glue, the childhood knot of worried excitement.
We were so small and lost. (Secret: A part of us is still lost. We tell no one.)
Now we have children of our own. On this morning, we remember the holy moment of their birth.
We see this is all just a matter of time. Once, we thought our children were ours alone. Each September, on this day, we learn better. Nothing is ours to keep.
Time passes through our eyes this morning. We see our children as newborns, we picture them as grown-ups. We see them walking their own children to school.
Time passes in the beat of a heart. I have seen my first kindergarten boy walk into his dorm on his first day of college.
A few days ago, my younger son left for college. I stood there, at once empty and full, as frightened and proud as the morning his first school bus pulled away.
Come on, it's getting late. The bus is coming up the road. I'll keep this short.
Make sure they have everything they need. Double check. Write their name on the book bag. Sweetheart, did you remember your lunch money? Dad, don't call me mushy stuff in front of the other kids.
They are right. Like the summer birds leaving us, our children know what to do. Like September leaves waving on the trees, we, too, give way to the winds of change.