This is a special time of year, especially for parents with school age children. August marks the transition from the relatively relaxed, slower pace of summer to the more regimented school-days schedule. This specialness is enhanced when both parents also teach, as is the case in our home. I’m not afraid to admit that I did enjoy turning the calendar to September. Autumn, the very best season, begins this month, and by September the craziness that often punctuates the transition from summer to school has at least started to calm down.
I’ve been doing this summer-to-school transition thing professionally for 20 years, though, now, and I did it for free 17 years before that, so you’d think I would be getting used to it. Every school year seems to be different, though, and some years are more different than others.
For example, last year at this time my wife and I, along with Annaka, were in the hospital — again, after coming off a series of hospital visits. This time last year, we were waiting for a liver, praying for a miracle, fully aware that our family was living on borrowed time.
And now? Well, now Annaka is trying to climb up the piano. Now she’s toddling around the house, wrestling with her brother and playing ponies with her sister. Annaka, from a liver standpoint, at least, has been healed.
We are under no delusion that this thing is all over, of course. She will have blood draws at least once a month for the rest of her life and will need to take multiple medicines well into her adulthood. In fact, we will all return to Pittsburgh in November so her surgeons can once again operate and enclose the muscles in her abdomen.
Regardless, things are better. Annaka sat out the first year of her life in a fog of elevated bilirubin and fuzzy predictions; now she runs in the sun like a wound-up watch.
However, this column isn’t actually going to be about Annaka, whose 15 seconds of health-related fame, hopefully, are up. What I really want to talk about today are t-shirts.
Almost every Wednesday of last spring, I would walk into Effingham High School and be greeted by one green shirt after another. Staff and students were wearing Annaka shirts crafted by students down the hallway in the graphic design classroom. These were fundraising shirts worn on Wednesday as a simple gesture of solidarity, as Wednesday was the day we usually traveled to St. Louis for Annaka’s weekly clinics. Every Wednesday for months, this kindness popped up in classrooms and hallways throughout the district, from the high school all the way down to kindergarten.
I would say that these gestures were humbling, and they were, but by that point, we had been inundated with so much generosity, from our hometowns and from this community, that there wasn’t really anything left to be humble about. What these gestures really became were very obvious reminders that my wife and I work with some tremendous people. Perhaps this is not really news to many, but in a world where it seems that schools get the privilege of soaking up so much of society’s negativity, I think it’s worth repeating.
Granted, a cynic might respond, “Well, sure, but you guys are in the club. Of course they’re going to help you two out and buy the t-shirts. Who wouldn’t?”
Keep in mind, though, that school personnel throughout the district are still donating to worthy causes, such as the Crisis Nursery of Effingham County. Staff members are still offering up huge amounts of time outside of the classroom for our community’s young people, such as those who benefit from our local Blessings in a Backpack. Column space wouldn’t allow me to list all the various charitable fundraisers and volunteering that goes on by the employees of this school system, but you wouldn’t need to ask very many people before running into someone whose life has been blessed because of such kindness.
The larger point, though, is that schools get quite a bit of bad press, much of it taken out of context at best and much of it utter nonsense at worst. In our own fine state, public education has become a political football tossed around by lawmakers who often act as if the whole thing is just an afternoon game of scrimmage.
If nothing else, I simply want to use this forum to let readers know that the people I work with and have worked with for two decades don’t play scrimmage. They’re the real deal, putting students toward the very top of their priority list. I’ve said this before, but I think this is worth repeating as well: Annaka, along with her siblings, along with so many of our young people, have much to look forward to in this life, and a large part of that has to do with the teachers and school personnel waiting to greet them at the end of each summer.