Back to the future: An adventure in fifth grade


You know that nightmare we’ve all had where you suddenly find yourself back in school? Perhaps something has happened and it has come to light that you never actually graduated and *poof* there you are, back in class?

That’s the one where you wake up in a cold sweat and the only way it could possibly get any worse is if you dreamt you were there in your underwear.

Yeah, well, I had that dream. Except in my case, it came true.

Last week I went back to middle school.


My son’s school has this marvelous idea. Very open minded and progressive. They invite parents to accompany their children through an entire school day.

We can attend classes, sit in study halls, loiter on the playground and eat a cafeteria lunch.

Never one to pass up a chance for adventure, getting out of work, column fodder or food, you know I was all over that assignment.

Then I awoke far too early on the day of my trip back to the fifth grade and realized that 20-plus years of (fairly) productive adulthood had been all but wasted on me.

My first thought as my eyes snapped open was “I’ve GOT to do my hair.” Turns out a person can be confident, accomplished, sport a resume, a portfolio, keys to a car AND a house and yet the mere contemplation of returning to middle school will transport her back to the basest of needs: Must. Have. Good. Hair.

I also developed a strange craving for strawberry lip-gloss.


Just like my last foray into school, I was late. I saw no real reason for first period when I attended school, and my opinion on that hasn’t changed much to this day.

Granted, when I was last enrolled in middle school I didn’t have the inarguable excuse that I had to get my younger child to elementary school first. Some things do improve with age.

Arriving in second period already in progress, I realized I know as little about science now as I ever did.

Don’t let this mistaken idea that kids today are ‘dumbed down’ fool you. Science is HARD. It’s like WORK.

Moving on to third period the reality of what I had just committed to slammed into me with the speed and severity of a freight train. There are no coffee breaks in the fifth grade!

Ever the bad influence, approximately six nanoseconds after class had begun, I leaned over to my son and whispered, “What time is this class over?” He whispered back, “I don’t know” and then “shushed” me!

That is when I realized Mr. Wonderful and I had been duped. We had brought the wrong baby home from the hospital. Any child of ours should have known EXACTLY when an educational confinement would end.

Here’s the thing, no matter how kind and capable and entertaining the teachers are (and they are!) the truth is school is essentially little blocks of captivity broken up with a few laps around the hallways and maybe, if you’re lucky, water. That’s it.

I am a grown woman who could, conceivably, have gotten up and walked out any moment I wanted and yet the moment I was back in the little metal desk with the books and the clock and the door firmly closed and ‘all eyes on me please’ from the instructor, I panicked.

My time — my will — was no longer my own.

Double Jeopardy

This is not to say the day was without highlights. In one class the teacher had arranged for us to play “Jeopardy.”

I like games. In fact, I like games so much that one particularly tough question had me leaping out of my seat, true to nerd form, waving my hand wildly and all but saying “ooh ooh I know this one!”

Fortunately it will probably be seventh grade before our son realizes this kind of display should be humiliating enough to require him changing his name and moving to another state — or home school.

Of course there are good points about attending fifth grade as an adult.

In math class — which has forever and always been the bane of my existence — I sat, a grown woman, hunched low in my seat, calculating how long it would be until the next bell, and praying not to make eye contact with the instructor lest I be called upon. Good times.

Then, oh blessed responsibility of adulthood — I was forced to step out to take a business call. Wouldn’t you know I missed the whole darn class?

Just think, if only I had possessed a cell phone and pressing career to get myself out of algebra in 1984, things could have been so much more enjoyable — albeit dumber — for me.

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