Our First Week Back to School is Tinged with Tragedy, Causing me to Take Stock of my Blessings.

When the kids returned to school last Wednesday, everything seemed run-of-the-mill. The days leading up to the first day of school were filled with some anxiety for me. Every year when the kids go back to school, I relive my back-to-school days, which for whatever reason, feel more like PTSD than Hallmark memories. It wasn’t that I disliked school, but for whatever reason, the first day back to school, which usually fell on my birthday in early September, wasn’t something I relished.


My kids, perhaps with the exception of Graham, seem to take it a bit more in stride. No one complains too much about the prospect of another school year on the horizon. Nevertheless, all the adjustments need to be made in order for things to go smoothly. For starters, those late night bedtimes and late morning awakenings must come to an abrupt end. Then there are all the school supplies to be figured out, located, and purchased (with Target's shelves nearly empty this year, we headed to Staples instead for two late-night supply runs, where had fairly good luck). Everyone has to get their back-to-school haircuts, which we did a few weeks ago. We have yet to tackle the behemoth clothing inventory project, but that's next on the list (school shoes, jackets for when it gets cold, and the list goes on). Each of the kids announced that their PE shoes, which fit perfectly in June, are suddenly too small, so we'll be looking for new ones this weekend. And last, but certainly not least, there is always a new schedule to contend with every year. There are school changes, grade changes, and after-school activity schedule changes, that have to be sorted out. It requires my having to go back to the drawing board each year and figure it all out again. Unfortunately, there is no copy and paste function from the previous year. I usually have about ten variations floating around in my head of how I am going to get everyone to school on time, picked up on time, delivered to after-school activities, and somehow get the dog and myself walked every day (Fitzy and I take our walks separately now due to age and energy level disparities). We are not yet a week into the new school year and I am happy to report that we are already in a bit of a groove. That said, no after-school activities have been added, so I'll keep you posted regarding my sanity, once those additions are made to the calendar.


What I was not expecting last week was the email I received on Friday afternoon. I was deluged with emails from various staff at the schools my children attend, for weeks leading up to the start of school (which added to my anticipatory anxiety). Sometimes I look at the deluge and am not even sure I want to open another email, for fear of what request might be made of me. It is beyond overwhelming and nothing like what my mother experienced when I was a child. That said, in the end, I always open the emails for fear of missing something important and/or being labeled the bad parent who doesn't read her thousands of school emails.


This email, from the principal at Garin's new high school, did not have a particularly captivating title, "Community Update," so I almost skipped over it. However, when I opened it, I felt unable to breathe. The email started like this, "It is with deep regret that we inform you about a recent loss to our school community. One of our students died yesterday following a routine, scheduled surgery due to complications of an undiagnosed medical condition. " It went on from there, without much more detail.


I found myself reading it over and over trying to comprehend what the principal was saying. How could it be only the third day of school and a student had died? At that moment, my heart ached for this student, whose identity was still unknown to me, and his or her family. Not only did I not know the student's identity, but I didn't know the student's age, gender, or what year he or she was in school. Yet, at that moment, none of that mattered to me. All that mattered was that some devasted family had lost their son or daughter. I sat, staring at the computer screen, shocked and unable to move.


Garin arrived home, a short time later. I asked him if he knew anything about this tragic news and he said that there had been a brief announcement, in the first period that morning, by his teacher, but other than that, he didn't have any details to share.


I spent much of the weekend ruminating about the news and wondering who the family was and what had gone so wrong in this routine surgery. Finally, on Sunday, a friend sent me a link to a Facebook page, which revealed the boy's identity, as Carter Stone, a freshman football player at Agoura High School. He was Garin's age and in Garin's class. As I looked at his picture, I realized that Garin and I had been standing in line with him for at least 45 minutes on Registration Day, the Friday before. As is always the case on Registration Day, we had to wait in a long line to accomplish all the required tasks. So of course, whenever I'm in a long line, I tend to take note of the people around me. Carter, as it would be, was right behind us in line. As we stood there, I found myself intrigued by him. Unlike Garin, who is tall but very lanky, and a self-described nerd, Carter was anything but those things. Not only was he strikingly handsome, but he had an air about him of being a cool kid. He was dressed rather stylishly and had a much more muscular build than Garin. As we stood in line, I found myself glancing at him and wondering about his story. When I learned he was a football player, from the post on Facebook about his death, I wasn’t surprised at all. He had that look of a cool, handsome, high school jock. It may have been a few years since I attended high school, but some things never change. I dated the quarterback, after all, so I know the look. Cater had that charisma.


I am left with regret that I didn't strike up a conversation with Carter that day. I don't know what stopped me, other than being worried that perhaps Garin would be embarrassed by my doing so. I wish I had chatted with him and gotten to know him for those 45 minutes we were in line.


Carter only attended one day of high school before he died. That is something I am still trying to wrap my head around.


In the meantime, we are struggling with all the usual back-to-school adjustments (most markedly, homework). However, instead of feeling overwhelmed or frustrated, I am trying to focus on feeling grateful that my children are alive and that grappling with which clothes to choose for the next day or what to pack for lunch, are our greatest concerns. I have no doubt that Carter's family would welcome such menial concerns, as they instead are faced with planning his funeral.

Catherine and Graham started 5th grade, while Miles started 2nd grade.


Garin runs to the bus (which now picks him at home) to start his first day of high shcool!


The annual first day of shcool pose on the front stairs.


The news of Carter's death seems to have gone viral. It is not often that school begins on such a sad note:

https://abc7.com/agoura-high-school-carter-stone-football-tumor/12176915/


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