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Back To School...

by on August 27, 2015 6:00 AM

As another school year nears for my kids marking the unofficial end to summer once again, I get the same pangs of dread I got even when I was a kid.

It really defies explanation. I am not headed to school to sit in class and have to remember dates like 1066, 1215 and 1776 for a history test.

There are no more essays to write on Lord of The Flies or The Scarlet Letter and no ballroom dancing in gym class (thanks Mrs. Speakman and Mr Gill).

I don’t have to remember that Pythagoras taught us a theorem that helps us figure the length of the diagonal leg of any right triangle. That was one of the many things I never thought I’d use again. But you’d be amazed how handy the Pythagorean Theorem was when diagramming football plays and calculating distances. 

Once on a recruiting visit to Bayside High School in Virginia Beach I even found myself lecturing a geometry class after I casually mentioned to the teacher how I’d used that theorem in helping design the Spread HD offense in 2008. 

As the class listened, I explained that our receiver was split 17 yards from the ball and running a route 12 yards deep and that the quarterback was setting up 7 yards deep. That created a right triangle with a leg 19 yards deep and a leg 17 yards wide. Using the theorem we calculated the throw would be 25.49 yards. 

We also used the theorem to know that a linebacker 5 yards deep and 6 yards from the ball would have to run 13.41 yards in the time the receiver ran to that spot 12 yards deep. The linebacker would also have to recognize pass or run and them take off not knowing exactly where the ball was going to be thrown.

The class learned the theorem gave us confidence that a pass thrown on time to that spot would beat the linebacker there unless he was a lot faster reacting and running to that spot that our usually faster receiver. As the geometry teacher smiled, the class was pretty surprised at this unexpected application of the Pythagorean Theorem. 

So many school lessons have stuck with me, and I am free of the bus rides and pop quizzes but I still have that pit in my stomach when I hear “Back To School”. So it is not the learning and homework of the school year that triggers the annual angst. 

I tried to pinpoint when I started to feel that way about back to school again. It started when I became a parent and my own children had to go back to school. I wondered why? 

A new school year triggers the recognition of another step forward in your child’s life; a milepost of another year down and another one starting. You’re another year closer to that moment when your child will make their home somewhere else. You’re closer to a time when at day’s end you’ll know they’re sleeping under the same stars while you hope they’ve made it through the day making good decisions in the manner you taught them. 

Back to school reminds us as parents that as they age, so do we. 

Back to school means change; new teachers, classmates, subjects and tests. Change requires adjustment, and as humans we tend to crave stability over change, especially as we get older. 

The carefree days of summer leisure are gone—and childhood is in many ways the summer of our lives. Summer means vacation or downtime to feel the sun’s warmth on our faces and feel the endless possibilities before the wind blows cooler, the days get shorter and life turns towards harvest. The pools close, the leaves start to fall and the scent of flowers gives way to the scent of fallen leaves mixed with rain. 

Yet even in autumn there are still warm days allowing us to hold onto the summer, but we know those warm days are but a last gasp of a season past. Soon the cold days will outnumber and overtake the last rays of summer. 

That is where my feelings come from, the recognition that no matter how infinite time may seem, no matter how much life we think we have left on earth the sands still fall in our hourglass. Even as an optimist believing there are always better days ahead I can find the passage of time that back to school marks to be bittersweet. 

So next Monday night when I go to bed I will dread the sunrise and the sound of a yellow school bus pulling up to take my children into another step into their future, another step further into their eventual life apart from me. 

I will hug my children Monday night and remind myself to make every moment with them count, for as they move away these moments will be the brushstrokes on a canvas that I can only hope they will look back upon as a masterpiece.

State College native and Penn State graduate Jay Paterno is a father, husband and political volunteer. He’s a frequent guest lecturer on campus and at Penn State events and was the longtime quarterbacks coach for the Nittany Lions. His column appears every other Thursday. Follow him on Twitter at
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