Sidelines: School children march in a parade of time

The little parades have begun again. They begin every year at this time, two of them every day, one in the morning and one in the middle of the afternoon.

For the most part, I’m not a big parade guy, but I get a kick out of these. They don’t have floats or horses or marching bands, and no one throws out any candy. But I don’t have to line up along the parade route early to get a good seat; I can watch these parades as they pass by my front porch.

I’m referring, of course, to the uneven stream of neighborhood children going to and from the elementary school two blocks away.

It’s funny, but you can usually tell who the better students are. They’re the ones who can’t wait to get to school, like the two little girls who sing and skip past my house. In the same way, you can pretty much tell who the not-so-great students are. They’re the stragglers who don’t seem to be in too big a hurry, kind of shuffling their feet, always lagging behind. But when the school day is over, they’re usually leading the pack on the trek home, eager to do whatever it is kids do these days after school.

I doubt homework is at the top of their priority list.

Despite the large number of children on my block, there aren’t as many marchers as there once was. When I was that age, everyone walked to school. Today, many parents drive their children. That’s a bit of a shame in a way, but who can blame them? It’s a shame because the children are being deprived of some good exercise, the very thing schools and health officials claim they don’t get enough of.

Considering everything going on in the world today, though, I’d probably drive them, too. When it comes to children, safety – and a parent’s peace of mind – trumps everything else.

As I watch the little scholars trudging along, I can’t help remembering what elementary school was like. I remember how anxious that first day of school was. Was your teacher going to be nice? Would you have class with any of your friends? Most important, was the class going to be as tough as the older kids in the neighborhood had spent all summer warning you it would be?

I remember how endless the school hallways seemed, how the teachers towered over me, and how intimidating and sophisticated the older kids appeared. (I’m talking about the sixth graders.) I also remember feeling important that I had such a fine place to go every day, with its freshly polished desks, the new notebooks and unsharpened pencils, those massive blackboards that seemed to touch the sky, and especially the coat rack with the sliding doors that disappeared into the wall with your coat.

I even remember what it was like to be a part of those parades, which got shorter every year even though the distance never changed. In the first parades, your mother walked with you all the way, and was waiting outside when the school day ended. In the final ones, as one of those sophisticated sixth graders, you’d get mad if she even stood in front of your house, watching.

Both were part of the march of youth.

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