My kids’ education just went up in smoke – again. Friday was their last day in school, so this weekend we held the annual End-of-School Bonfire. Other than Christmas and birthdays, it’s the one day of the year the kids look forward to most.
We stumbled upon this idea last spring. Tom was using a burn barrel to burn some twigs and leaves and suggested the kids toss in the piles of math worksheets and spelling tests they’d stacked on the kitchen table after the last day of the school year.
Shocked, the kids looked at him for confirmation. “Really? We can burn our school papers?”
Tom shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t see why not. You already learned that stuff, right?”
The kids nodded furiously.
“Okay, then pitch it into the fire.”
They hooted and hollered as they retrieved their school papers and sprinted to the burn barrel with nine months of knowledge tucked under their arms. One by one, they crumpled up papers and shot them into the barrel, clapping wildly as book reports and algebra worksheets disappeared into a fine, educated smoke.
One of the neighborhood kids caught wind of the situation and asked if he, too, could pitch his papers into the fire. Why not, we said? So he ran home and came back with a backpack full of work to keep the fire going.
It didn’t take long before one of the kids wisely observed that the only thing that would make a homework-burning bonfire better would be the ability to roast marshmallows while your science project faces its fiery fate. The other kids agreed with gusto, and soon we were using wire clothes hangers to stab fluffy marshmallows and thrust them over the flames.
This year, at least two weeks before school ended, the kids were already asking about the next bonfire. Knowing it was coming helped get them through those last whiny weeks of school, when everyone had grown weary from early mornings and standardized tests.
During a recent trip to the grocery store, the youngest of the three kids asked if we could go ahead and buy the marshmallows, Hershey bars and graham crackers so we’d be ready for the end-of-school bonfire. Proof that our school system truly is teaching our kids a thing or two, she not only showed the ability to plan ahead, she also had the good sense to hide the chocolate bars from her older brothers so the s’mores ingredients wouldn’t disappear before the bonfire began. Smart kid.
When I picked them up from the last day of school, they climbed into the car, happily toting backpacks full of completed papers and graded tests. They showed me the stash of papers that would soon turn into a burn barrel inferno – bright orange flames licking the crumpled edges of vocabulary tests and American history study guides.
We kept the books, of course, and any folders that can be used again in the fall but the rest was tossed into our impromptu incinerator.
Huddled around it were our three kids and neighborhood friends, too – all of them gleeful for summer break, hopped up on s’mores and wide-eyed as they watched the flames do a celebratory dance for summer.
So if you detected the faint hint of smoke in the air last weekend, it wasn’t steaks on the grill. It was just the Rockwood children’s collective knowledge going up in smoke yet again. It was the smell of decimals and mixed numbers, longitude and latitude, conjunctions and proper nouns. The kids call it the smell of freedom.
Hello there, Summer. We’ve been expecting you.
Gwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of nwaMotherlode.com. To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here. To check out Gwen’s book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.