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The Full Suburban: With the sweet comes bittersweet at back-to-school time

Julia Ditto laid down on her driveway shortly after the last school bus pulled away this year.  (Julia Ditto)
Julia Ditto laid down on her driveway shortly after the last school bus pulled away this year. (Julia Ditto)
By Julia Ditto For The Spokesman-Review

About five seconds after the last school bus pulled away from my house on the first day of school two weeks ago, I laid down on my driveway like a crazy person and exulted in the beautiful world that was now mine: six whole hours each weekday with no fighting, no mess-making, no whining, and no begging for screens.

I sang “Hallelujah” as I pranced up the driveway and into my quiet house, knowing that the summertime ultra-marathon was over, and I had survived. Never mind that I almost immediately plopped myself down onto the couch and picked up my phone to scroll through pictures of my kids, who I was already missing, however faintly.

Even though it’s bittersweet, back-to-school time brings with it a few perks, one of which is seeing the assignments my kids bring home each day. For years, these have been treasure troves of funny and sometimes heartwarming material.

There’s the opinion piece Jane wrote when she was 8 years old about why people shouldn’t be allowed to bring pets to school. She gave some logical reasons, like people might be allergic to the pet, or the pet might have a disease. Then she finished with her strongest point:” In addition, people could be very scared because of an experience that happened before, such as their kitten being eaten by the big dog next door.” If that’s not a sound reason for pets not being allowed at school, I don’t know what is.

Back in 2019, second-grader Emmett was tasked with writing about ways he was similar to other people. He chose to write about two of his brothers: “Me and Henry like origami,” he wrote of his older brother. “Me and Henry like ice cream.” He went on and on. Then he turned his attention to his little brother, 5-year-old Hyrum: “I am like Hyrum. He destroys stuff. I destroy not as many stuff.” That remains true to this day.

The entertaining assignments aren’t just limited to what is sent home after school; I’ve learned plenty as I’ve volunteered in my children’s classrooms over the years. One day, I was helping kindergarteners with an assignment where they had to come up with a series of sentences in chronological order, using the prompts, “First…, Next…, and Finally….” One student had written this: “First, find your sister. Next, she’ll be doing something lazy. Finally, tackle.”

My mom told me about a time she was working as a substitute teacher at a local high school and had to teach a health class about sexually transmitted diseases. She had just taught the teenagers about gonorrhea when one student’s hand shot up in the air.

“My mom has that!” he exclaimed. Every head in the room whipped around to stare at him, wide-eyed. He continued: “Yeah, she went on a camping trip and now she has it.”

“I think that’s something different,” my relieved mother replied. “I believe you’re talking about giardia.”

As much as I enjoy the funny stuff, I also love it when I stumble across something heartwarming. A few days ago, I found an old notebook that belonged to my newly minted college girl, Lucy, back when she was in a public speaking class in high school. In it was a speech she’d given on the topic of “what do you want to be when you grow up”.

She talked about her love of marine biology, astronomy, genetics, and teaching, but said, “I have a whole list of jobs I think would be cool, but I don’t even know what I want to do tomorrow, let alone for my whole life.” I read through her speech with mild amusement until I got to this line: “But no matter what I go to college for, I want to be a mom. But not just any old mom. I want to be like mine.”

My jaw hit the floor and my heart flooded with warmth. I didn’t know she even liked me half the time, let alone wanted to be like me.

Thank goodness for old school assignments tucked into forgotten notebooks. They’re enough to make you sing hallelujah.

Julia Ditto shares her life with her husband, six children and a random menagerie of farm animals in Spokane Valley. She can be reached at

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