Now that I’ve had a little time to think about it, I’ve figured out what bothers me most about the First Day of School. It’s the doors. The doors to the classrooms. They are so narrow, and there are no windows on the walls either. You take your oldest child, whom you have raised for years in the cocoon of your home, and you walk her quickly to the door of an unfamiliar room — Kindergarten.
And then in she goes, whoosh. Into a void. Sucked from the wide world into this suddenly tiny room. She walks in ahead of you to greet her teachers, and you try to squeeze in, but you can’t because other children have come in right behind. So there you are in the hallway, craning and stretching your neck to see inside, desperate for a peek.
Finally you get a look, and you know you will have to say goodbye soon. But first, you want to see what she is doing, your child. But she isn’t doing anything. She just got there! She is trying to put away her lunch bag, or looking for someone to tell her what to do, or maybe sitting in a chair. Or simply walking silently in the opposite direction from you, and this is a weird feeling. Before this day, you knew almost exactly what she was going to do at any given minute, whether at home being Little Mommy to her younger brother with Down syndrome and his twin sister, or in preschool. From now on, eight hours of her day will be a Big Mystery.
Sure, they’ll eventually send home a schedule and there will be curriculum nights where you can find out more about how and what they are learning.But because the day is so long and so full, you cannot possibly keep a grasp on what has gone on in each class, every day. Not that you need to. No one needs to, but you want to, you really really want to know. Because you’re the parent and you know exactly how she likes her oatmeal and which teddy bear she keeps closest to her pillow and what shape the constellation of bruises makes on her right knee. But this school thing is much more her business than yours.
Though you know you will be an involved parent and will visit the classroom and keep up with assignments and field trips, this does not change the fact that those doors and those walls divulge no information at the very moment you crave it most.
The First Day is about to begin, and the seconds until your departure are ticking by. You still can’t really see anything because other small bodies and big backpacks keep getting in the way. A zillion questions run through your mind. Is she happy? Is her hair getting in her eyes again? Will she be shy or friendly today? Will she choose puzzles or blocks? None of this matters a whit, yet the answers to these questions seem the most crucial of your life, simply because they are so impossible to obtain.
And then you leave. End of story. No fireworks, no confetti, no gong to mark the transition. (I’m dating myself, but remember the Gong Show? They knew how to send someone packing with style.) There is no warm, matronly woman handing you sympathy tissues — or, more my style, sympathy coffee and pastries — and saying with great enthusiasm “Thank you for leaving your beautiful, amazing and sometimes enervating child with us for the next 12 years!” No one pats you on the back. They are all too busy. As they should be. But still.
As Peggy Lee sang, Is that all there is? All the getting her excited for school, reading lots of books, buying new clothes, ceaselessly hunting for bags full of supplies, packing the lunch with care, waking up in the dark, actually making it out of the house on time — ends with a quick kiss good bye in a room full of strangers. Have a nice day, dear.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m THRILLED that she handled it well, that she was happy to be there even if she looked a little stunned. But I guess I thought there would be more pageantry about the whole thing. It just seemed too much like the rest of life — all business, no magic. And everything important associated with our precious ones is supposed to be magic, right? Right?
Yet I know the magic is there, past those walls you can’t see through and those doors you can barely fit into. Behind those blockades, all kinds of secret things happen that parents mustn’t witness. If they did, they might disrupt the alchemy that turns a little 5-year-old into a confident schoolgirl, possessed with the golden knowledge that she can indeed do great things.