So there I was. My hands were weighed down with books... and not the light, fluffy stuff I like to read at the beach. Rather, these were books about algebra, science, quantum mechanics and world history. I was trying to run down the hall to put my books away so that I could get to gym class on time, but I couldn't find my locker. I suddenly remembered that it was five flights up and down a long hallway. When I finally got to my locker, I blanked on the combination. Was it 24-left or right? Do I pass zero and then dial 15, or wait until I scroll in the third number?
And why did my mother make me wear mittens to school?
The books fell out of my hands and crashed to the floor, just missing my new penny loafers. I heard a bell ringing. I looked at my schedule and saw that I wasn't supposed to go to gym class, but to math class. Then I realized that I had last year's textbook, and I didn't have a clue where math class was because the classroom numbers on my schedule were completely smeared. I had no idea where I was going.
The ringing got louder and louder. My head was swirling. I knew I was going to be late. I began to panic.
Oh, and one more thing... I forgot to put my pants on before leaving the house.
Does this back to school nightmare sound familiar? There's something about this time of year, the way the sun sits in the sky, the days getting just a bit shorter and the sight of school buses making practice runs that bring it all home: Summer is nearing the finish line. No matter how many decades its been since I was in school -- armed mightily with new supplies for the upcoming academic year -- I remain plagued by back-to-school nightmares each and every end-of-August. And I am someone who absolutely loved school. What must it be like for someone who hated school?
"I have the same recurrent nightmare every year," said my 23-year-old son, who has a mere two years out of college under his belt. "Every August, I dream that I'm in school in X class and I forgot we were having a test, don't know anything about the subject and didn't know that I was even enrolled in this class." (I thought I detected small beads of sweat appearing on my son's forehead.)
"Last week, I dreamed that instead of not knowing I had a test, the nightmare was 'Ohmigod, I'm still in college? I haven't even picked my courses yet. How is this happening?' The near-hysteria wasn't that I hadn't studied for the test, it was that I didn't even know I was supposed to be in school!" he said. "And for some reason, this year's dream was vastly, infinitely and insurmountably more scary and panicked."
I handed him a handkerchief. Those were sweat beads on his forehead.
As for me, this year's self-inflicted back to school nightmare has a new theme: paying college tuition for my daughter so that she, too, may have similar nightmares every end of August for the rest of her life. By paying her bill from the college bursar's office, I am, in a way, keeping the dream alive.
The true test of empowerment is when the first day of school comes and goes. My nightmares stop (until next August) and I'm safe from the traumatic and dramatic academic dream sequences. I don't have to worry about turning in my homework on time or whether I left the house without putting my pants on. And The Big Thing: As a grownup, I don't even have to go to school if I don't feel like it.