Labor Day came and went last week, and then another long academic year got started for my three children.

Labor Day came and went last week, and then another long academic year got started for my three children.

And what signaled the start of it all? What trumpeted the arrival of this great quest of learning and dodge ball? It was the sound of four alarms going off at the same time at 6:30 a.m. There's nothing else quite so jarring on a chilly September morning, and it can only mean one thing. The day that parents have anticipated with excitement and kids with dread for two and half months has finally arrived. Play time is over youngsters, and it's back to school.

Actually, I'm not so sure that parents wouldn't enjoy a few more weeks of summer vacation, just like their kids. Yes, back to school means back to more structure in their lives. The children's days are more organized and busy. They're in bed for the night earlier (I can actually watch football in the living room). And, thanks to school, the hassle of finding daycare has disappeared for nine or ten months. Still, it was kind of nice to stay in bed and not watch the sun rise in July and August. Sun rises are great and all, I guess, but I can't say I really missed them. And no matter what time you get up, the cat's always hungry and has spilled her water dish.

It was actually pretty funny last week to watch big sister get acclimated to the new schedule. She has been rolling out of bed at 10 or 10:30 since summer break started, and now she suddenly has to get started on her day a few hours earlier. By eight o'clock Thursday night, she was staggering around the house like a punch-drunk fighter or Jimmy Buffett with a bottle of tequila in his hand.

Also, homework is back. Let's face the truth that even marginally engaged parents of school-age children come to accept. When the fourth-grade teacher sends your child home with math homework, you have homework as well. It's the same for all the other subjects. It wasn't that many years ago that every Thursday night (and I mean every one) was devoted to learning our letters by cutting up magazines and pasting photos of broccoli to poster board. We learned our Bs though.

I understand that some really smart people have conducted some brilliant studies that show parent involvement in their children's education is a key component in academic development. I hate those smart people. How about next time they study how a family of five with one bathroom can get out of bed, washed up, dressed, clothed, fed, in the car and to the school's front door in less than an hour.

Shortly after the alarms start going off I usually hear something else.

"Dad, ten more minutes (in bed), OK?"

That's also a familiar sound, and is likely to be repeated most weekday mornings for the next nine or ten months.

Sure, what's the rush?

In the grand scheme of things, an extra 10 or 15 more minutes of sleep probably does not mean a lot, but it performs miracles psychologically, at least for my kids. It also buys a little time for mom and dad to get together and carry on with their favorite morning activity: drinking coffee.

One major improvement to the back-to-school routine is the automatic coffee maker. How wonderful that it kicks into action, filling the kitchen with the smell of freshly brewed java, all while I'm still unconscious and dreaming of the Bills winning their opener against the Jets. While alarm clocks provide a rude awakening, the smell of freshly-brewed coffee is a welcome convenience. I feel like this particular coffee maker and I are going to be friends for a very long time.

So the first week of school is in the books. Everyone survived, worked hard and earned a weekend of rest. That wasn't so bad, was it?

How many days until Christmas break?

The Evening Tribune