The First Day of School
“We aren’t ready.”
The thought kept occurring to me as I raced through the house, multiple lists in hand, making sure the clothes were laid out, tags cut off book bags and lunches prepared, while bracing for the culture shock of the first day back to school from summer break. For my daughter, it was the first, first day of school and I was slightly on edge.
Let me back up. Just three days prior, there was a special day set aside before school began, where parents could bring all the supplies needed for the year to the classroom. That way everything would be organized in the desks and lockers, ready for use on day one. This really is a terrific thing that the school does and it makes the transition from summer vacation to the start of the school year a much easier process. A good parent sees this opportunity as a chance to prepare for the first day back with a little less stress and a bit more efficiency.
Naturally, we didn’t do any of that.
As I worked later into the evening than I care to admit with the tasks of labeling markers, folders, glue sticks and the like, while my children continually sifted through things I had already branded and packed, I began to notice how my daughter had become distant. Maybe she was tired? She didn’t look tired. It was past bedtime, so I decided to stop and just put the kids to bed. Sometimes as a parent, it’s so hard to break away from a parental project to do, well, parental duties.
I asked my daughter, “Dear, are you ok?”.
“I’m fine” she responded quietly, without hesitation or so much as a glance toward me.
Okay, I am a dad, but previously I had once been a guy. If you are ever a guy that meets a female person, and she responds to any inquisition about her state of being with “I’m fine”, you might want to rethink every moment you have known her from the instance you first met. This won’t help of course, because being a guy you lack the core competencies to discover why she’s ‘fine’, you can merely hope the effort is recognized. This is my daughter though, and it’s different because I need to be the person in her life that teaches her about sharing and communicating when something is wrong. Against all my instincts I persisted, “Are you sure?”.
Seemingly still unaware of my presence on earth she says, “Sure, ready to go to bed now”.
I could go on about how ‘sure’ is also a word that can be detrimental to a guy’s wellbeing, but at this point, I’m even more surprised and concerned by the fact she was ready to go to bed! Something is wrong, I’m handicapped by being a guy and a dad as to what it is, but I am sure my intuition is correct. Nevertheless, we brushed teeth, put on pyjamas and headed to her room where I sat down next to her bed.
“No story tonight Daddy” she spoke softly, finally acknowledging my presence.
“That’s fine, can I stay for a bit?” I asked.
She grabbed my hand and rolled over with her back to me and pulled my arm around her. I sat there for several minutes in an awkward position as her thumbs worked my thumb like a worry stone, until my arm began to do what I wished my daughter would do, which was go to sleep.
Finally, I said, “Sweetheart, if there’s something bothering you, I want you to know you can always tell me anything, okay?”
“I am scared about tomorrow. What if my teacher doesn’t like me? What if the other kids in class don’t like me? What if I hate school?” with a quivering voice she cried.
There are books about raising children that have responses to these types of questions, which might embark my child on a pathway to scholastic achievement that culminates in a doctorate from MIT. Too bad I haven’t read those books. Instead, wanting to get back to the task of getting ready for school, my response was, “I’ll make you a deal, go tomorrow and if at any point during the day you decide school is not for you, just raise your hand and ask the teacher if you can go to the principal’s office to call your dad. You call me and I will come get you and you don’t have to go back.”
The smile in her voice bled through as she responded, “Okay daddy.”
I sat there for another minute before she lifted my hand up and placed it behind her, giving me my appendage back. She sighed, “Okay, if you feel better, you can go now.”
I did feel better.
The next day, we made it to classroom early so we could put things in their proper place and so I could be judged by my kids’ new teachers, for being the only parent to not attend the back to school ready function (There’s probably an official name for this day, but as someone who didn’t even attend, it’s lofty to expect me to remember the name of the event.)
As I left my daughter’s classroom and walked out the door waving her a goodbye, I felt a sense of pride and happiness to see her start a new journey in life.
My daughter never called that first day and I thought to myself...