The Right Opinion

Back to School - 2012

By Rich Galen · Sep. 5, 2012

It's raining granddaughters in Mullville. The newest was born about two months ago – the Lad's & Ladette's second.

This column, first written in 2001, has held up through the years. Enjoy.

* * *

The children of America have gone back to school. And, in nearly every household, there is at least one person who is standing over the kitchen sink in tears, wondering where the years have gone.

I understand.

Every year at this time, I remember a wonderful essay I heard on NPR the summer before The Lad first went to college. A woman talked about the day she sent her daughter to kindergarten for her first day of school. “My husband told me not to cry,” she wrote, “because tomorrow she would still be in kindergarten.”

“But, he was wrong,” the essay continued. “Tomorrow, she went to college.”

When The Lad was born – from the second he was born – he became the most important thing in my life.

I spent Saturday mornings with The Lad at the Air & Space Museum in Washington, DC. Later, it was afternoons at the Little League field in McLean, Virginia. Still later, Sunday breakfasts at our favorite deli in Dallas, Texas.

Very early one morning, in August of the summer before the Lad was to go off for his freshman year at the University of Texas, I was driving to work in Dallas. I oversaw operations in the Middle East so, to keep up with employees spread over nine time zones, I often went to work at about four A.M.

Driving up the Dallas Tollway, the overnight sports station was conducting yet another arcane discussion on the state of the Dallas Cowboys defensive backfield, so I shut the radio off and started singing “Puff the Magic Dragon,” to which I can sing the harmony. In college, when I was a pretty good folk guitar player, it was a staple in my repertoire.

I was singing – in pieno voce – when I got to the line:

A dragon lives forever;
but not so little boys.
Painted wings and giant's rings
make way for other toys.

I tear up at Christmas coffee commercials. I sniff and wipe my eyes at every happy ending in every movie I've ever seen – including movies on airplanes which generally precludes any further conversation between my seatmate and me.

The “…but not so little boys” line caused me to pull over to the side of the road and stop, not just to wipe away a tear, but to actually sob. Which, on the Dallas Tollway, even at four in the morning, is no mean feat.

The woman who wrote that NPR essay said that she had divided her friends into two groups: Those who understood, and those who didn't. I understand.

Around the United States, in addition to all the young men and women who recently left home for their first year of college, there are thousands of families whose children are guarding our freedoms in far away places. Yesterday they, too, had left for kindergarten not even knowing that the place in which they awoke this morning even existed.

During my Iraq days, I wrote about a 23-year-old 1st Lieutenant in Fallujah:

We just keep growing these kids, asking them to do unbelievably important things in the harshest possible circumstances at an age when we should be worried if they aren't home by midnight much less home by next September and, oh, by the way, please be responsible for the lives of a couple of dozen other soldiers most of whom are years – or decades – older than you are.

The day after The Lad went to kindergarten, he left for college. The following afternoon he was working for the President of the United States. Then he was helping to re-elect the Governor of California. Now, he and his wife, The Ladette, have two children. Our granddaughters.

He is still the most important thing in my life. Where ever we are, we talk almost every day, The Lad and I. And now, at no additional cost, I get the daily report on the children.

Welcome, sweet little girls. Tomorrow you'll go to kindergarten; the next day, to college. Take my hand and walk with me for a little while until I have to wave goodbye and leave you to explore, with your mom and dad, the magic corners of your worlds.

“In a land called Honalee.”

On the Secret Decoder Ring page today: The definition of pieno voce, the Mullfoto of a very happy Grandpa and the newborn baby.

Also on the the page today: Photos of the grandkids (and the grand dog).

Copyright ©2012 Barrington Worldwide, LLC |


Tom Mumford in Manchester, Connecticut said:

It's a shame that your spouse, who gave you the child, wasn't able to retain the role of "the most important thing in my life". After raising several children, half already to adulthood, my spouse remains the most important to me. You're really missing out on something special while you focus on The Lad.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012 at 9:09 AM

Army Officer (Ret) in Kansas replied:

You are correct, Sir. Placing a child at the center of the family tends to create a self-centered child with entitlement issues: heading for a collision with the Brick Wall of Reality. Despite his protestations to the contrary Rich Galen has shown that he is among those who - on this issue at least - "Don't Understand."

Not that he's anywhere near as clueless as Greg from Yakima by a long shot...

Thursday, September 6, 2012 at 7:29 PM

Gregory in Yakima Wa. said:

Rich Galen would rather not be the messenger slain. Unlike last weeks Republican fiasco the Democratic Convention got off to a rousing start.. Perhaps the most significant generalization is that President Obama is genuinely admired, loved and respected and Romney is not.

I'll save the details for my own column but my summation is that the Republicans and Mitt Romney look ever less capable of winning an election that is only 60 days away.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012 at 10:25 AM

wjm in Colorado replied:

What in the Wide Wide World of Sport are you still delusionally talking about. Are you totally unable to focus on the content of a piece? Thanks again for another worthless post and exposition of true insanity. A rousing start, is that what you call the arrest of a couple of drunks? Please do save the details, in your insignificant fantasy land, for in the real world of cogent thought you are a worthless turd.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012 at 10:37 AM

The American in Columbus, Ohio replied:


You are such a douchebag! WTF? Go away.

Thursday, September 6, 2012 at 3:33 AM

Gregory in Yakima Wa. said:

Don't say I didn't tell you that Ryan was lying. Hey! that's catchy. Ryan is crying about lying.

From Truth Dig:

"Vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan is backtracking on a claim he made during his Republican National Convention speech last week that essentially blamed President Obama for a GM plant closure that happened under former President George W. Bush. It was just one of a handful of falsehoods Ryan told during the speech. "

Wednesday, September 5, 2012 at 11:31 AM

Richard Ryan in Lamar,Missouri replied:

Ah little Greg: another mish mash of meaningless drivel from a limp-wristed liberal. Factually, Obama is genuinely and universally despised. Only the ubangi he is married to and simpletons such as you like him.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012 at 9:44 PM

The American in Columbus, Ohio replied:

Yup! I was not quite so elegant.

Thursday, September 6, 2012 at 3:34 AM