The Rockwood Files: The back-to-school quiet zone

By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

A calm settled over the house this morning at 7:45 a.m. It hasn’t been this quiet here since early June. I can hear the hum of the refrigerator and the tap-tap-tap of the dog’s toenails on the wood floor. Our dog, E.J., is not enjoying the change in household atmosphere and is nervously pacing back and forth by the front door, wondering where the boys carrying backpacks went and when they’ll be home again.

I, however, am enjoying the new peace and quiet just fine, thank you very much. I’ll admit the sudden absence of our two boys makes me a little sad, mostly because a mama gets used to having her ducklings around in the summer and the place feels strangely empty without them. But I also know they were ready to go back to class and experience all the adventures a new school year brings.

After I snapped a photo of the boys leaving for school this morning, I stretched out on the sofa to soak in the quiet solitude for a few minutes. Little sister Kate was still sleeping upstairs because her preschool program doesn’t start until September. So I used that small sliver of time to wonder about what the school year might bring for the boys, who will be in second grade and fourth grade this year.

I tried to remember what exciting things happened when I was in second grade. And then it came back to me. In second grade, I excitedly raised my hand (while holding a pencil) to answer a question in class. I really liked my teacher, Mrs. Wood, and I wanted to impress her with my vast knowledge of second-grade spelling words. When Mrs. Wood called on me, I brought my hand down with force – sending a No. 2 pencil lead deep into the palm of my other open hand. It was my first trip to the school nurse’s office, and it was the last time I ever raised my hand while holding a skinny wooden spear. Lesson learned.

In fourth grade, I had a wonderful teacher named Mrs. Hickman who rewarded good behavior with popsicle sticks. Breaking a rule meant giving up one of your beloved popsicle sticks, which we bundled together with rubber bands. The student with the most sticks at the end of the week got to keep Mrs. Hickman’s stuffed animal – a monkey with Velcro on his hands – inside his or her desk. Even though the stuffed monkey was small and worn out and probably had a retail value of five bucks or so, we all wanted that monkey more than anything. Even though it was decades ago, I still remember how thrilling it was the day the monkey came to live in my desk for a week.

Also during fourth grade, a boy named Sidney swallowed a silver dollar during recess. He was quite proud of the feat, and his fellow fourth-graders were duly impressed. Sidney sat a row away from me in Mrs. Hickman’s class, and later that afternoon, he started feeling sick – making those tell-tale noises that let you know someone is about to lose their lunch right in front of you.

I can still see the slow-motion video of that ugly scene in my mind’s eye. As much as I didn’t want to see Sidney’s regurgitated lunch, I was dying to know if that silver dollar made its way out of his stomach. It did. And I still wish I hadn’t looked.

Sidney was quickly shuffled off to the nurse’s office, and the janitor was called to come deal with the mess while a classroom full of grossed-out fourth graders held their noses and grimaced. He poured what looked like cat litter over the mess, waited a moment and then swept it into a dustbin. I remember holding my breath while he cleaned, praying I wouldn’t sympathy puke right next to the mess Sidney had already made.

I still wonder whether or not the janitor gave the silver dollar back to Sidney or if he kept it for himself. I can’t blame him if he did. I’d say he earned it.

My mental vacation back to elementary school was cut short when 4-year-old Kate bounded down the stairs in search of a good morning hug and a bowl of Honey Nut Cheerios. The rest of the day will likely zip by in a flurry of errands, work deadlines and laundry. Before I know it, it’ll be time to meet the bus at the corner and pick up two backpack-laden boys, who will no doubt have stories of their own to tell. I can’t wait to hear what happens.

Gwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here.



  1. I read this in the paper the other day, and could really relate to it. The sudden quietness of the house is a little overwhelming at first, but it’s kinda amazing how quickly I got used to my quiet 7 hours of the day! : )

  2. Hi Katie! Thanks so much for reading me in the paper and touching base here on nwaMotherlode. I couldn’t agree with you more… I definitely got used to that nice, quiet refrigerator hum pretty quickly that first day of school. 🙂 The quiet space helps us welcome home all that after-school noise!

Comments are closed.