Oh, the first day of school.
I want to be all giddy about it and try and pretend that I’m so excited that my 5-year-old daughter — my oldest and the first to head to kindergarten — will soon be doing her thing, moving towards independence and education and all of that crap, but I can’t.
I CAN’T! I CAN’T! I CAN’T!
I mean, c’mon. Is there a more nerve-wracking time for parents than the first day of school? I don’t think so. It’s got super-neurotic built right there into the damn term, for God’s sakes!
It’s the First Day of School, a term which, when I was a kid, always made me want to pack up and join the circus or some kind of wilderness weirdo cult at the end of every summer. Come that last night of summer vacation, that last blue evening before the new school year began, I would lay in my bed and wish upon a freaking star that I’d be kidnapped by home schoolers before dawn. It’s just the nature of the beast when you’re a kid.
But now, it’s all so much worse. Now, the eyes in my head won’t be able to look around me and see who’s who and what’s what in the cafeteria that first day of classes. It’s all up to my little girl to figure it out for herself and I’ve got to be honest: I hate that idea. I’m not ready for that! How can I be ready for that? How can anyone?
I’m a parent now and I think I’m a pretty good one and I guess that’s what good parents do, huh? We worry? We fret? When it comes to school, we remember things we we wish we could forget. Sure, in reality our school days were some of the greatest of our lives, but when it comes to our own kids walking out the door into the vast and wild jungles of the American school day, everything is different.
And I focus on the worst.
Will she be bullied?
Who’s gonna bully her?
Will the bully’s mom or dad beat me up out in their driveway underneath the b-ball hoop when I go over to their house one night around dinner time and they open the front door and I’m blasted by a hot cloud of Salisbury steak as I announce, “Enough is enough! There is injustice in the halls of Little Peanut Elementary and your Bella (TWILIGHT movie name!) is bothering my angel!”
And what about the lunch room? Will the lunch ladies be patient with a first-timer who has never bought her own lunch before? Or will they snarl at her like a menacing Popeye, growling out of the corner of their mustache, “Whatdya want?! I SAID WHATDYAWANT, KID?! Fine, you get boiled spam and cabbage!”
I worry about the social things more than the book-learning stuff, to be honest. She’s only starting kindergarten after all, and I trust she’ll be able to learn the ways of the young Jedi, how to listen and watch and keep silent when you need to. But everything else is shrouded in mystery and pain for me. How will she be in the hallways? Will she remember not to run or talk?
I’ll just say it. I want to go with her. I want to see everything she sees and to be there when she might feel scared at one of the 50 different mental crossroads a day she’s going to be pulling up to, her tiny engine purring up in her head, her eyes wide open with uncertainty and maybe even fear. I know that teachers all want to help and they all care about the kids in their care, but no one can care more than me.
Plus, this is the beginning of so much more to come than I can even wrap my head around! Kindergarten will probably end up being fine. Violet is sharp and smart and bright and she’ll do well, I just know it. But the thing is, this is Chapter One of a very long book, isn’t it?
And how am I going to ever handle all these other first days of school hurdling at me fast from a not so distant horizon? Dating, drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, driving a car, going out on a Friday night with friends to “Laura’s house” (which I know damn well means to a massive keg party in the forest behind the Walmart), sports, cheerleading, school plays, parent teacher conferences, Daddy-Daughter Dances, heartbreak, hope, tears, joy, math, … oh my God, ALGEBRA?! How am I going to be able to be there for my daughter when she needs help with Algebra?!
This is what I get, I guess. This is how it goes for people like me, not just for dads and moms sending their kids off to school for the first time ever, but for parents watching their teenagers walk out the front door into their senior year of high school too , I imagine. The blitzkrieg of extreme possibility and never-ending scenarios starts dropping bombs on your mind-field in the weeks leading up to this whole kindergarten thing and it never ever lets up.
It’s bewildering, is what it is. It’s overwhelming and exhilarating and nauseating and thrilling all at once. It’s so many things running through your head — so many nights of hugs and gentle whispers, so many drop-off’s, so many quick kisses on the cheek that you demand.
This first day of school thing is so many awesome memories walking away from you, walking down to the bus stop in the predawn cool, a backpack on her jean jacket back. But, thankfully, it’s also a trillion more memories coming home again, at least for now, day after day, waltzing back through that door with a quick hello and a snack in front of the TV.
It’s a a whole slew of memories you don’t even own yet.
But you will, Big Daddy.
But you will.
Image: Bielanko Private
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