Happy (School) Days Are (Hopefully) Here Again!

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by Helen Baldwin |

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night before first day of school | SMA News Today | main graphic for column titled "We're Not in Kansas Anymore," by Helen Baldwin, depicting a blue wave offset by green nature scenes

Lights! Camera! Action!

My family’s goings-on might make good fodder for a reality TV show. It’s been a memorable year so far, including my mother’s declining health and death in February; a collapsed ceiling and water damage two months later in what had been Mom’s apartment, which stemmed from a leak upstairs in what had been her house before our son, Matthew, purchased it; the frantic packing up and dismantling of much of the upstairs for repair work; a move by Matthew’s family to a rental house across the county; and finally, a return to their house  Sunday.

Not that the house was ready. The replacement flooring is almost complete, but baseboards and trim are still missing. Additional tile had to be ordered for a small area. The kitchen didn’t move, but all of the appliances did, and they’re still mostly not where they belong.

night before first day of school | SMA News Today | A long, green apartment is in chaos as it is being renovated. All kinds of materials are stacked on the floor, appliances are scattered about, and an orange extension cord winds across the floor.

A tiny bit of cleaning up is in order. (Photo by Helen Baldwin)

Mom’s former apartment still resembles a hoarder’s paradise, stuffed with most of the belongings of Matthew’s family to ease the flooring replacement upstairs.

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night before first day of school | SMA News Today | Helen's late mother's former apartment is jam-packed full of stuff, resembling a "hoarder's paradise."

Somehow, this (and much more!) fit upstairs in Matthew and Jill’s house before it was moved downstairs to what had been my mother’s apartment just two months before. (Photo by Helen Baldwin)

As soon as Matthew dares, he’ll contact the clean-up company that hauled off virtually everything from my mother’s former apartment after the flood and schedule a time for them to bring it all back. Surely there will be some vacant space by then.

Hopefully, the company will return two boxes I didn’t think to retrieve: the ones with my folks’ ashes.



We scrambled on Sunday to get things ready enough at the house, which is a quick dash down the road from where my husband, Randy, and I live. Matthew, who is helping to coach our local high school football team, had a long coaches’ meeting that afternoon, followed by an essential trip to the grocery store. I offered to help Jill, our daughter-in-law, with baths for our grandchildren, Clara and James. Jill’s not supposed to do any heavy lifting for a while, and James, 4, is heavy lifting. He needed a boost onto his bed, which is nice, cozy, and still a bit too high.

The urgency of getting things rolling along came on what is undoubtedly one of the most chaotic nights of the year: the night before school starts. By the time this column is published, we will be on day three of first grade for Clara, with a teacher she really wanted, and pre-K for James at a new school. Clara cannot wait! James’ first day last year was rough, but that was last year. I’m an optimist.

Add soccer practice and games for both, Girl Scouts for Clara, school and other obligations for Jill (who is a teacher) and Matthew (a community college instructor and football coach). Randy’s working on a honey shed and workshop and tending to bees. Etc., etc., etc.

I’m tired.


My family lived across the street from the elementary school, so I walked to school every day. For the most part, I loved school and my teachers.

My mother didn’t care for school and even wrote notes to her parents every day while at school detailing how much she pined for them. (Note: She was not at a boarding school!) My brother, Paul, inherited Mom’s abysmal attitude toward school, although he kept going and became a physician. Matthew didn’t enjoy the ride to school but was OK once he arrived. Our daughter, Katie, loved school, yet she was ecstatic to learn she could graduate from high school early. She did the same for college.

Regardless of how much any of us looked forward (or not) to school, the year often kicked off eventfully. Unfortunately for Katie, she started kindergarten the year the county decided to stagger the first few days, with each student attending only one of the first four days. Matthew was envious, but Katie was crushed — she’d been wearing her new backpack at home for weeks.

With a last name starting with “B,” though, she was scheduled for the first day. When The Day finally arrived, we loaded the van and headed to school. The traffic was sparse, and we were the only ones in the drop-off line. Odd.

Surprise! School had been canceled due to flooding in the county the night before. Matthew cheered. Katie booed.


The most difficult school year start fell in 1997, less than a month after our baby, Jeffrey, was diagnosed with SMA. Matthew entered sixth grade, and Katie entered third.

The summer had been a whammy after the diagnosis, especially upon learning that Jeffrey likely wouldn’t be with us long. Stress, tears, and prayers for miracles quickly became the norm.

This picture sums up that first day back to some semblance of “normal” better than any words. Jeffrey was wailing, not wanting his favorite siblings to leave him behind. Matthew and Katie also didn’t want their favorite baby brother to leave them behind, especially while they were at school.

night before first day of school | SMA News Today | A photo from 25 years ago show Helen's children, two of which are preparing to head to their first day of school. An infant, Jeffrey, is wailing in a baby carrier.

I have such vivid memories of this day in August 1997, as Katie and Matthew prepared to return to school. We may have all felt like bawling, but only Jeffrey followed through. (Photo by Helen Baldwin)

Matthew’s “No Fear” shirt is particularly fitting for every first day of school and beyond.

Happy, sane (ha!) school year to all.

Note: SMA News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of SMA News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to spinal muscular atrophy.

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