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MARTHA SEZ: Back to school, and in style too

September 7, 2011
It’s hard to believe that the days of August have run out, like beach sand through an hourglass stem, and that now it is time for students to think about going back to school.

Why every year this should be so hard for me to believe, I do not know.  I calculate that the whole month of August takes about the same amount of time to elapse as a single afternoon in February.

The back-to-school season daunts me. Even now, the cedar fragrance of new pencils mingled with the scent of apples and the smell of new clothes, strikes fear into my heart.

Labor Day marks the beginning of the new year, for all of us who went through the school system, and we will never quite get over it. (The New Year, capitalized, that begins January 1st, is from a completely different system). The new school year inspires its share of resolutions, hopes and fears.

A friend told me she has to take her 15-year-old son to the mall in Plattsburgh for new school clothes.

“He shot up over the summer,” she said, meaning that he grew taller.

I’m happy for him, not because he is the kind of fellow who covets clothes, but because I know that for several years he feared he would always be the shortest boy in his class. Now he can saunter into the classroom with his mind at ease, on that score at least.

Girls worry too. My friend Diomira said her 11-year-old, Sofia, was concerned about the way her body was changing. Sofia asked her mother to question the doctor at her yearly back-to-school checkup.

“She said that there is nothing wrong with you, honey. You’re just going to be one of those lucky women with an hourglass shape,” her mother told her. (There’s that hourglass again.)

Sofia burst furiously into tears. When Diomira, surprised and alarmed, pressed her to explain what the matter was — Diomira, having been one of those girls who watched the mirror for years like a hound on a rabbit, waiting in vain for signs of “development,” would have rejoiced at such a prediction — the girl wailed, “I’m going to look like a little fat Italian woman all my life!”

Sofia is grown up, and beautiful, today.

It is easy for adults to laugh at growing pains, but when we look back, we might remember how difficult that waiting game was to play. No matter what we sanctimoniously say, people’s lives are affected by the way they look, and while a person is still going through the growing process, it’s anybody’s guess how he or she will turn out. The suspense is terrible. Somehow a mother’s, “Well, I think you look just fine. Handsome is as handsome does! Go brush your teeth,” doesn’t help much.

It is not just youth who worry about looks. How many “Biggest Loser” reality shows have you seen — or tried to avoid, like potholes on a bad road — over the years? Not to mention all of the miracle acne cure infomercials and exercise ads.

I think it’s hard for most adults to take teenagers seriously when they worry about their looks because we think they look so great.

You’re gorgeous! You’re so young! Why don’t you see it?

Oh yeah, right, mom.

And then, of course, a student has academics to worry about.

It’s a good thing we adults don’t have to learn as much between now and June as a first-grader will. But wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could?

I’ve been learning how to use over the summer, and I have to tell you, we’re probably related.

If you go back enough generations, you have so many great-great-great-and-so-on grandparents, multiplying by two each generation, that it’s a wonder everybody’s ancestors didn’t come over on the Mayflower. Sometimes it seems everybody’s did.

What is this,  a reader might well ask, the Mayflower as clown car? How many Pilgrims could it hold? Why didn’t it sink?

Math was not my best subject, but, going back 20 generations, you have 1,048,576 “grandparents.” Yet the world’s population is larger now than it was then! How can that be? Going back 17 generations, you have 65,536 grandmothers, true — but most of them were probably the same person. If you just go by the math, you end up counting some people twice.

No matter what horse — or boat — we came in on, we’re all related.

Have a good year!



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