"My mom put out my clothes
and made me a lunch.
But first I had breakfast,
a waffle and juice.
Then we went to the porch,
me with my new blue schoolbag
Then we lined up
and my dad took pictures.
Next we walked to the street.
My mom kept looking down the street
and touching my hair.
The big yellow bus pulled up,
and I climbed on.
I sat by the window
and I remembered to wave.
Why was my mom crying?"
And cry I did. But why? What exactly moved me? Was it my firstborn taking a step away from me? No one had ever been in my presence so constantly. Or was I relieved to finally be out of the diaper, wipes, Gerber baby food stage of our lives? What after all was there to be sad or proud about?
Honestly, I've had lots of first days of school, over 30 of them, and none of them are clear in my mind. I know I entered P.S. 107 as a non English speaking child but I couldn't tell you what I wore or whether I bought or brought lunch or whom I sat next to. I could tell you that my teacher Mrs. Thelma Sachs was nice, that she made me feel comfortable holding a pencil.
First days of school perhaps are better defined by the nights before, when I sleep fitfully. I wake on the hour, and eyes half closed, swiftly calculate the time left before the alarm (which has been off all summer), then I beat the alarm anyway, the morning air suddenly too cool.
September, 2000. I picked out green cargo shorts and a striped polo for Sam. For his lunch, I made sure the juice box had a straw and I pre-opened the snack bag for easy access. Sam came home the first day and said that he had met a boy who also liked Power Rangers. In contrast my dominant impression of that day is the horror story of a five year old boy dropped off in front of 7-11 in the middle of Seven Corners instead of at his after school daycare. But here's Sam's version of his first day, in his words, as opposed to my made-up poem: "I remember being scared, then doing all these activities, and coming home being happy."
Parents invest so much in the stages of their children's lives - we have that luxury these days - but maybe it's not that big a deal for the kid. For Sam, an experienced third grader now, back to school means meeting new kids and recess every day. He reports that his teacher Mrs. Felderman is a good teacher because she's nice and teaches good things about crickets and caves.
Sometimes I am consumed by all the differences between going to public school in the seventies in New York City and going to school today in the suburbs of northern Virginia. But maybe I should brush all comparisons of lunch cards, backpacks, technology, Kiss N Ride away, and remember that school, once first days are done, brings a rhythm that is comforting and fresh for both of us.
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