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Turning the page

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One of my favorite toys growing up was the Etch-a-Sketch. 
One of my favorite toys growing up was the Etch-a-Sketch. If you weren't happy with your last drawing, you just had to give it a good shake and the screen went blank, ready for another try. September is a lot like that for kids and adults. I know the calendar says January is the beginning of the year, but it's simply not true. It's September. The month we hit the re-set button and give it another try.

For children, that happens with the big yellow bus weaving its way through the neighborhood gathering up kids like a magnet picks up scattered nails. No matter how old you get or how many times you've been through the ritual, you still got butterflies that first day of school. New faces on the bus, deciding where to sit based solely on your level of 'coolness'. Fonzy in the back; Poindexter up front by the driver, please. Girls think that they are the only ones who sweated over what to wear to school that first day, but the truth is we boys worried too. Chances are it was something your mom bought you at the mall the weekend before. How many teens have had the perfect outfit undone by a price tag still attached that they missed? That always goes over well in the hallway.

It's a harsh world with sharp teeth and children learn that not long after they can spell the word
M-E-A-N. Wear the wrong label or sit at the wrong table at lunchtime and you were quickly reminded that Mom and Dad were not here to save you this time. It's the way it should be I guess; at least it toughens you up for the real world later on. A little like that Johnny Cash song, 'A Boy Named Sue'.

When I see kids huddled together this month waiting for their bus, I'm excited for them and cringe at the same time. Never again will they be at a point in their lives where so much is possible. I want to pull over to teens I don't even know and yell, "This is it. Right here today. This is where it all went down. When you look back in 20 or 40 years and wonder why things are so awful or wonderful, THIS is the moment the seeds were planted." And the truth is, we are the farmers of our own fate. Blow off school, try a little drugs, have a little sex, just decide it's all a load of crap and you are opting out; those are the off ramps that take you from endless possibility to a plain old dead end.

Are you happy and successful? I don't even know you, but if you answered yes to that question I'm sure you can name one special teacher who had a hand in it. When the going got tough he or she was the one who sat with you after class to make sure you got it. If you have a talent I guarantee that teacher is the one who recognized and encouraged it. When parents drop out of parenting, it's the teachers who often fill the void. How many reach into their own pockets to buy a child a notepad or sandwich? You can argue over whether they are paid enough, but I know for certain we don't thank them enough. Don't believe me? Go shadow a class for a day and see if you aren't mentally searching for the exit inside of an hour.

September is also a joyous and tough month for the stay-at-home parents. As crazy as the kids can make you during the summer, it is very bittersweet to watch the bus door close and sweep your little cupcake away. You've yearned for peace, but now that it's here the house is a little too quiet. My youngest goes off to first grade this month, his first full-day of school, and I honestly don't know what I'm going to do with myself. Perhaps I'll count the gray hairs that weren't there when my oldest started school so many years ago. I can't imagine the nasty pangs that will be there when the last child heads off to college. An empty nest indeed, but not an empty life - not if you've done things right.  

I used to think grandparents were nice because they were reaching the end of the road and wanted to score a little good will before they met St. Peter at the Pearly Gates. Now I know the truth. They are nice because the first time around, when they were just parents, they took some of it for granted. The dirty diapers, skinned knees and bicycle tires that constantly needed air. I'll bet you dollars to donuts when they see me with my children they want to pull the car over and yell, "This is it. Right here today. This is the good stuff."

I'm a long way from being a grandparent, but already I'm tucking away train sets and favorite size 2T sweatshirts for the day when one of my own kids bring home their own little 'cupcake'. I want to be ready for that warm September day when they climb up on my lap and ask me to draw them a picture. That's when I'll reach for that old, weathered Etch-a-Sketch. Paint faded, knobs a little loose, but like all of us on our better days, still able to make magic.

John Gray is a Fox23 News anchor and contributing writer at the Troy Record. He can be reached at johngray@fox23news.com.


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