The First Day of First Grade
Just a few hours ago, I drove through the drizzly gray morning, taking my 6-year-oldson Cameron to his first day of first grade. He'd been up since 6:00 am, ready since 6:30,with his school-supply-filled bookbag packed and positioned by the front door sinceyesterday. During the three-minute drive, we talked about first days--about my firstdays, about other first days. "Were you ever nervous?" he asked."Sure," I said. "I was always nervous the first day.""Did you tell your parents you were nervous?" he wanted to know.The weight of memory hit me. "No," I said. "I guess I didn't."Pulling into the parking lot, we saw a colorful, smiling group--parents whose arms werefilled with bookbags, lunchboxes, and papers, somehow at the same time holding thehands of their youngsters, guiding and cautioning, watching cars, gauging traffic,navigating their children to the front door of the school building.Cameron and I joined the flow, carrying his bookbag and lunchbox and papers. Hedidn't want me to hold his hand. As we were swept in with the other parents andchildren, I tried to fight the lemming-like feeling, that tightness that was growing in mychest. Inside, we found his room; we found his desk. His name was written, in thestandard Denealian form we are supposed to practice every evening, on a tag on themauve metal side. He sat down in the chair. His knees were too tall for the desk. Too bigon the outside, I thought, but too small on the inside--too small to be facing entire daysin a classroom, too little to have to rein in all that jittery joy that makes him jump andsing and twirl spontaneously in the checkout line, at the library, anywhere at all. I kissedhim twice, quickly, on the top of the head, making the Mommy noises that come sonaturally. "You have a good day, okay? I'm just three minutes away, remember. Listen tothe teacher and don't be afraid to ask questions if you don't understand something.Have a great time, okay? I'm proud of you, sweetie." He mumbled something from amouth made of marble that was an acknowledgement of what I said but meant, "Really,Mom, that's enough. Go away and let me figure this out."I stopped and waved twice on my way to the door; he waved quickly and looked away.His eyes were big worried saucers. Outside in the parking lot I felt like I'd eitherabandoned him or left an important part of myself behind. Or both.