I can remember it like it was yesterday.  There I sat on my front steps—a picture perfect, golden autumn day was unfolding all around us as my then 5-year old daughter stepped off the Kindergarten bus for the very first time.  Another milestone had just taken place.  My oldest child had temporarily left the nest for 4.5 hours so she could get a better handle on learning the alphabet, her primary colors and other worldly matters such as how to maneuver her very first backpack!

After just one short week of this incredible thing called school, I soon discovered two very important things—4.5 hours really isn’t that much time at all, and if I wanted to be in the know about all the goings on that take place in that blink of time the answers could always be found in that oversized pouch—the backpack.   Because she was our first to venture off to school via the big yellow bus, the only communication I had with her new world was stashed in that sack.  The first few weeks I unpacked it lovingly—oohing and aahing over each juice spattered Tempera painting she created on the school easel (exactly where all painting projects should take place), gently checked her lunch box to make sure she had eaten her snack (a decade ago it was ok to send Twinkies or chips), and always, always sat down to quietly read all the paperwork that was sent home from the teacher (my heart skipping a beat when I eagerly signed up to be the coveted room mother).

Seven kids later that ritual went right out the window, along with the Twinkies and chips, and as soon as they hit middle school the chances of getting anyplace near their sacred backpacks was about as likely as getting them to take a hardboiled egg to school to accommodate today’s healthy snack policy.

Most communication between school and family comes to a crashing halt during these and the high school years, so to this day I am so grateful that I didn’t take for granted the sheer ecstasy I received those many years ago when I  received our oldest daughter’s very first and all important field trip permission slip!  I knew immediately it was something special and not just the everyday ditto that came down the pike.  You see, it was copied on orange paper and it was glowing with adorable pumpkins and a few festive bales of hay.  You guessed it!  The Kindergarten kids were going on their very first field trip—to the pumpkin patch!

I could barely catch my breath before I caught glimpse of the bold text glaring at me from the bottom of the page—"No Parents Allowed".  Chaperones would not be necessary this time, but the teacher assured us that plenty of other opportunities would be there for the parental taking. (Be careful what you wish for—12 years later I’ve ridden that big yellow bus loaded with boisterous cherubs to more museums and outings than I ever could’ve hoped for!)

As families across America surround themselves with freshly sharpened # 2 pencils, overpriced new sneakers and a rainbow of canvas backpacks I, too, have purchased a few back-to-school supplies of my own, starting with an un creased, blank 5-subject notebook and a shiny blue sharpie.  Nope,  I don’t plan on taking any classes this fall, but after reminiscing back to my oldest daughter’s first year in Kindergarten I realized I’ve been missing out on an unbelievable opportunity each September—field trips—not for the school youngsters—for me, the parent, as in "No Kids Allowed"!

I sat and daydreamed about all the places I, a fun-loving fresh off a 10-week summer vacation parent, would like to spend some "me" time (other than the loony bin) and within moments, my new blue sharpie was practically dry!  I’ve got dozens of places I’d like to go visit during this upcoming school year as well as some new things I’d love to try.  Destinations as simple as taking a picnic lunch, a good book and one of those contraptions people actually sit in on the sand, a chair I believe, to the beach to catching the train to Boston and meeting my husband for lunch where catsup isn’t the main course.  And as crazy as this may sound, I’m going to try and make one new recipe a week from scratch for the entire school year starting with homemade apple dumplings, using apples I pick from the orchard, of course!

We look at New Year’s Eve as a magical marker for making resolutions that will improve our individual lifestyles—why not back-to-school as well?  A brand new school year is an incredible opportunity for everyone who wishes to take stock in their current lives—including people who don’t have children.  There is an eagerness to learn in the air as well as excitement in getting to know new friends and teachers.

What a great time for young and old alike to go within and decide if our life grades are up to snuff.  I know there are several areas in my life where I’d like to strive for a few more A+’s especially where the subject matter is trying new things and exploring new places.  I’m just so glad I don’t need an official permission slip to get started—or have to rely on a school bus laden with children to get me there.

Copyright 2010 Cheryl Butler