• Pepper Pratt, Ph.D.

The Last Back-to-School Picture


There was a lump in my throat as I bent down to take the picture. We would take the same picture in the same pose for the next twelve years plus three more for my youngest. My oldest stood next to the minivan in the garage looking like a pack mule about to climb Mount Everest. The backpack looked oversized or maybe he just needed to grow into it.


One box of clean wipes---check.

One box of tissues—-check.

One pack Crayola sixteen-count coloring sticks---check.

One pad of multi-method, one-inch-rule writing tablet---check.

Four extra large, very orange pencils----check.


Yes…my eldest…my baby…was leaving the nest. His first day of school would not only be the beginning of his formal education, but a right of passage; a step into manhood.


As he stood there, looking a little goofy, I asked myself so many questions. Had we chosen the right school? He’s socialized well with kids at church, but how will he do in the big leagues? Will he be bullied? Will he be a bully? Will he like his teacher? Will his teachers like him? How will he, at age five, handle his new teachers names? (Mrs. Butts or Mrs. Rakis—perfect!) Will he be obedient? Will he do anything to embarrass me? Will he be expelled!!?


The years rolled by and we took more pictures in the garage. The minivan was replaced with an SUV and the questions changed for now, two boys. What would this year bring? Will they do well academically? Will they have a girlfriend? Will I have to intervene? Will this be the year they think we (his parents) are stupid? Will they accomplish something great? Will they remain healthy? What will he do in sports? Will he be drawn to the arts? They were leaving for the first day of school. They were not only continuing their education, but it was a right of passage, a new step into manhood.


My favorite first-day-of-school story was when my youngest was in the sixth grade. First day of middle school. I have to admit, he was a little cocky going into it. As you know fifth graders, the oldest in the elementary, rule the school. Now, as a sixth grader, was in the same building not only with seventh and eighth graders, but high schoolers. But he wasn’t intimidated in the least.


When I picked him up that afternoon, I could tell he was upset. What’s wrong? “I got detention”, he said. He explained that his shirt-tail had worked its way out by last period and that he was in violation of the school’s dress code. I assured him that he had now joined the long line of Pratt men who proudly faced the occasional detention. “But you don’t understand,” he exclaimed now with a big crocodile tear in his eye, “I got a point! If I get fourteen, I’ll be expelled!”. If he received another disciplinary point in the next six years, it certainly was not been because his shirt-tail was out.


There was a lump in my throat when I bent down to take the picture. I had taken the same picture now for the past twelve years, plus three for my oldest. My youngest stood next to his own vehicle and carried his own knapsack. That’s what men do. The backpack is the same size, but it fits on broad shoulders.


A young man of faith---check.

Decent ACT score---check.

Gets along well with others---check.

GPA that will get him into a good college---check.

Solid academic preparation---check.

Sports accomplishments---check.

Part-time job---check.

Healthy self-confidence----check.


My baby left the nest for the very last time. It was not only a completion of this phase of his formal education, but a bold stride into manhood.


And now, eight years later, our nest is empty. Both college graduates and living in two different states. They married amazing women I now consider my daughters. And, I miss them so. My heart is heavy at times, but it is as it should be. Parenting…is such…a privilege.



I am grateful for the pictures. For those of you at the beginning of the journey, believe it when you are told that the time of childrearing flies by. Take the pictures and celebrate. Before you know it, as they drive off and you wave goodbye, you realize the new stride into manhood/womanhood is actually a step of your own.

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