John Kelly's Washington

Columnist John Kelly Thinks the First Day of School Forecast Is Just Perfect

By John Kelly
Tuesday, September 1, 2009

I continue to be impressed by Mother Nature, not only by the wide variety of plants and animals she scatters across the planet -- dandelions! dragonflies! stoats! -- but also by her uncanny ability to perfectly calibrate the weather to fit my moods.

Has there ever been a more first-day-of-schoolish day than Monday? Mother Nature did it again. (Well, it was either her or a high-pressure system hovering over the mid-Atlantic, combined with a stationary cold front in the Southeast United States.)

I associate that weather -- chilly, a slight breeze -- with every first day of school I ever experienced. Summer might not be officially over, but its days are numbered. Such weather is made for first-day-of-school outfits, for new shoes not yet broken in, for plaid.

Even now, decades after I last toted a book bag, that cool, crystal air triggers a cascade of sense memories: the powder of chalk dust in the nose, the grit of pencil shavings between the fingers, the percussive echo of a four-square ball bouncing on the playground, the reassuring aroma of a lunchbox: equal parts sour milk and smashed Ruffles, with undertones of rusty metal.

There are probably plenty of kids who don't share my sentiments -- it's hard to muster much nostalgia when you're 11 -- but when I see children marching off to school, there's a part of me that wants to go with them.

Street Smarts

Now is a good time to remind drivers to be on the lookout for school buses and for kids walking to and from school. Drive carefully.

While I'm at it, how about students themselves showing a little care, too?

History doesn't record the name of the very first teenager who thought there was something cool about stepping into traffic, about crossing against the light, about idling in the street like a matador standing his ground as a bull stampedes toward him. But his descendants (surprising as it might be that he has any) are everywhere these days.

Every morning when I drive my daughter to her bus stop, we pass a bunch of kids from another high school walking to their bus stop. There are always a few who have decided to walk in the street rather than on what appears to be a perfectly serviceable sidewalk. Since this is at 6:15 a.m. and the sun hasn't yet risen, they show up in my headlights like ghostly apparitions.

I've never actually stopped to ask why they prefer not to walk on the sidewalk -- talking to a strange teenager while your teenager is in the car is just too mortifying (for your teenager) -- but I am curious. My Lovely Wife and I have come up with a few possibilities:

They think a pervert might be hiding in the bushes. They think it's too dark on the sidewalk. They're fearful of tripping on a tree root or a patch of unleveled pavement. Sidewalks are against their religion. They have an insurance scam going and are hoping to get tagged by a drowsy driver.

They're teenagers. . . .

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2009 The Washington Post Company