Back to School, in Spurts and Starts

As a new school year starts nationwide, quiet settles on homes once filled with the bustle and bicker of children. Commentator Julie Zickefoose relishes time to herself, until the phone rings.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

As a new school year starts quiet settles on homes that were once filled with the bustle and bickering of children.

Commentator Julie Zickefoose relishes this peaceful time, that is until the phone rings.

JULIE ZICKEFOOSE: Mondays and Wednesdays, my 5-year-old son is in kindergarten all day. He and his older sister Phoebe attend a small rural school. There's only one class per grade and all the children know each other by name. Now that school has started, I love Mondays. They unfold like a beautiful flower full of the pollen of possibility, the scent of freedom.

All it takes is one phone call, though, to wither that perfect blossom. This is Tracy, the nurse at school. Liam says he has a bellyache and he's crying and we were wondering what you'd like to do. I stall. Has he eaten anything? Well, he dropped his Kit Kat on the cafeteria floor and now he says he'll probably die from the germs. He's been going through a germ phase common to 5-year-olds. There's hope here.

Here's what I'd do, Tracey. Take him to the restroom and tell him mommy says nobody gets sick that fast from a cafeteria floor germ. Okay, we'll give it a try. Feeling a little guilty, I add, I'll certainly come pick him up if he doesn't feel better soon, but I think this is just peristalsis with a touch of hysteria.

I hung up the phone and quiet settled back over the house. After a half hour, I called back. The principal picked up the phone. Oh hi, Ms. Zickefoose. We had Liam lie down for a while here in the office and then we pulled Phoebe out of class and had her sit with him for a while and he stopped crying. He's back in class now.

My heart melted. How sweet that they'd think of calling Phoebe to come sit with her distraught, about to die from a cafeteria floor germ little brother. That's wonderful, thank you. Liam tends to get exorcised over fairly minor things and I didn't want to reward that behavior by swooping in and picking him up. Yes, his teacher told us as much.

When we first moved to Whipple, Ohio, I wondered what went on in the small brick elementary school surrounded by goats and grazing Holsteins, the rich smell of their manure swirling across the playground. Now I know that it's as close as we'll get to the security of a one room schoolhouse where everyone cares and everyone knows your name.

NORRIS: Commentator Julie Zickefoose. Her new book, Letters from Eden, chronicles life in the Ohio Appalachian countryside.

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