Back-to-School Time is All About Hope

I’ve been wearing more than one hat the past few months, as a captain with the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department, as a columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle AND as the father of two VERY active boys. So I have not been writing as frequently as I would love for Gays With Kids. But this week’s article has one meaning for the residents of the Bay Area, and quite another for gay dads.

Readers of this column know that I’m a nerd, so it comes as no surprise that I love back-to-school season.

In South Ozone Park, Queens, back-to-school meant the Tuesday after Labor Day. The leaves on the elm trees on Sutter Avenue turned yellow, the McCormicks closed up the pool and the fire hydrants returned to a service other than outdoor sprinklers.

Nurse Vivian, my mother, had grown up during the Depression, and that made her a pragmatic woman. On Labor Day, she loaded the boys up in the red Chevrolet station wagon (the one with the giant fins), and Pop drove us to Great Eastern Mills to get school supplies.

Crayons were always on the list, and Nurse Vivian bought the Crayola eight-pack, no matter how much I argued for the 64-pack. Michael Carbone always had the 64-pack, with such exotic colors as Burnt Sienna and Carnation, but Nurse Vivian told me that with the eight colors she had purchased I was reasonably capable of producing any of the other 56 colors.

The one area she did indulge me in was lunch boxes. My first was the Fireball XL-5, bright red and blue, with a rocket ship taking off on the lid. In subsequent years, Nurse Vivian bought me the “Lost in Space” and the Batman lunch boxes, only once balking at my choice — and I suppose, truth be told, the Barbie lunch box would have gotten me beaten up in the P.S. 60 schoolyard.

Nurse Vivian did not vary the menu of my lunches. From kindergarten through eighth grade, she packed me off with a liverwurst on rye sandwich, one piece of iceberg lettuce, one dab of Gulden’s. If I had been particularly well behaved on grocery day, my dessert was a Ring Ding Jr.

The first day of school was all about hope. The matching Thermos wasn’t broken yet. On the first day of school, the pencils had sharp points, and after school, Nurse Vivian fashioned book covers for every one of the textbooks out of paper bags from King Kullen Supermarket.

It’s not quite the same in San Francisco. Four decades later, I am still delighted about back-to-school, but the autumn chill hasn’t set in, as our Julys are much cozier than our Septembers. Leaves may be turning here, but they turn when they like and whatever color they please.

Zane and Aidan return to Denman Middle School for eighth grade and St. John the Evangelist for fifth grade, respectively. Yes, public and parochial. If our family was the Osmonds, we’d be singing, “Aidan’s a little bit country, and Zane’s a little bit rock ’n’ roll.”

Back-to-school is no longer about Labor Day. Zane started on Aug. 15, whereas Aidan started on Aug 24. And it’s no more about crayons than it is copy paper, USB drives, Web-based school scheduling and calculators.

Back-to-school is about counting your blessings. This is the first semester in two years that Zane is actually returning to the same school that he left the semester before. And Aidan did not get held back.

There are days I ache for us to be normal, for my boys to go to the same school, for neither one of them needing an Individualized Education Program. But I know this is what makes us humble. The Fisher-Paulsons are always the first family to buy the candy in the charity drive or volunteer as soccer coaches or go on the first field trip of the year, because we know it takes a lot more energy to teach our boys.

I expect that this is the last back-to-school when I am taller than Zane, the last time when he can tuck his head under my chin as we hug goodbye and I tell him to make good choices and he rolls his eyes. With luck, next year will bring high school and not wanting Dad to be around quite so much.

But this year I am still part of his adventure.

On his second day of school, Zane’s math teacher gave him a Mathography assignment. Zane actually did what he was asked to do and got the very first A++ that he’s ever gotten in his nine years of formal education. He ran up to me in the schoolyard because he knew that I would be more proud than he was and that first thing at home it would go on the bulletin board.

That is what the first day of school is all about. No D’s. No F’s. No homework. No detention. And a box of eight crayons because we make our own rainbows.

This post was re-published with permission from The San Francisco Chronicle.

Posted by Kevin Fisher-Paulson

Kevin is the author of "A Song for Lost Angels," his memoir of how he and his husband fostered, raised and lost newborn triplets. Kevin is also featured in "When Love Lasts Forever," "MHR is my home," and writes a column for the San Francisco Chronicle. He lives in San Francisco with his husband, his two adopted sons and his four rescue dogs.


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