"First day of school. Even though it's my 16th one, does it still make you feel warm and fuzzy?"
You know what? It kind of did.
Dani's a sophomore in college this year. The fact that she would still A) be excited about starting a new school year and B) want to share that excitement with me made me happy.
Her first first day of school was in the fall of 1994, when she was not quite 4. She skipped into the church where her preschool was, wearing her hair in a ponytail, a teal t-shirt, a black denim skirt, black tights and little black Mary Jane shoes.
She was so excited about going. She convinced me to let her get her ears pierced for the occasion.
"It'll hurt," I warned her.
"Yes, Mommy, but it'll only hurt for a second," she told me. "I'll have earrings forever."
I couldn't argue with logic like that.
The next year, when she went to kindergarten, we lived in Madison, Wis. They already had full-day kindergarten there, so she got to get a brand-new lunchbox.
She was all kinds of jazzed about that.
She rode the bus for the first time that year, too. I remember her, wearing overall shorts and a pink and white striped t-shirt, carrying her hot pink Barbie lunchbox, turning to wave at me as she boarded the big, yellow bus.
The years after that flew by. Dani loved every first day of school, and her optimism about what each year would bring was contagious.
We loved shopping for new supplies and clothes together. We moved from chapter to chapter in her life -- from preschool to elementary school to junior high to high school to college -- together.
Along the way she experienced many triumphs.
She won spelling bees, pageants, math competitions and science fairs. She got roles in plays and earned academic excellence awards in various subjects. She made the cheerleading squad and homecoming court and was inducted into the National Honor Society.
There were heartbreaks, too. Jobs forced us to move a couple of times, and she had to switch schools and make new friends. She took 4-H projects to the fair that she worked very hard on, but for which she ended up with red or white ribbons.
She loved playing softball but wasn't very good at it, so she was relegated to the bench for much of the seasons.
She got -- and then broke up with -- her first boyfriend.
It strikes me as I think about Dani's journey through school how much growing and changing children do each year. When Dani was in second grade, she was doing so well it was suggested to me by school personnel that she skip third grade.
I said no -- I believed then and I believe now that each new grade, from kindergarten through graduate school -- brings with it new and important things, not only academically but also socially and emotionally.
Dani did end up graduating six months early -- she had earned enough credits to graduate by the time the winter semester of her senior year ended -- but I feel like I really did her a favor by not letting her skip a grade.
I loved school (I know, I'm a dork). Middle school was dicey some days, but for the most part I enjoyed my time there. High school truly was the best time in my life.
I wish all the students in Putnam County a great 2010-11 school year. Just keep in mind that this year, and all the years after it, will pass quickly. Take lots of pictures, keep a journal and buy the yearbooks.
One day you'll be 40, and you'll be glad you did.
I know I am.
Jamie Barrand is the editor of the Banner Graphic. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.