I wonder how many books, essays or stories have been written about the first day of school? Probably a daunting number, but no matter. That's what was on my mind today as I was walking and that's what I want to think about here in this out-loud, online kind of a way that is a blog.
Today was the first day of school here. School buses were out early stopping traffic to pick up their passengers clad in shiny new everything - clothes, shoes, faces, book bags. Everything. As I watched those kids board those buses, I started thinking about all the first days of school that have been a part of my life and all the emotions that accompanied them. And so I write.
That real 'first day of school' - the one with no prior experience of anything having to do with school other than what my brothers and mom said - was probably one of the most emotionally charged days of my life. The pure excitement and joy about a new human experience. The first steps of independence - of growing up and walking away to do and be without mom's help. Anything could happen and everything could be accomplished!
Mom has a picture of me walking down the lane to the bus following my brothers like a baby duck with a handkerchief pinned at my shoulder. I remember it so well... even the embarrassment of that handkerchief. Climbing on that bus was entering a new world. There were children of all ages. A few were my age, obvious by the very wide eyes (and handkerchiefs or notes pinned at their shoulders). Others ranged in age just like my brothers up through high school. Even though I had a 16-year-old brother, the teenagers frightened me at first, but ended up being kind and helpful probably remembering their first day of school, too.
Our bus was driven by Charlie who owned a small country store and had been driving a bus almost as long as all the kids on it had been riding to school. Charlie was kind and strict and everyone on his bus knew his rules and obeyed them so we all felt safe and our parents knew we would be okay. I recently heard that Charlie finally retired at the age of 80.
I wonder if anyone drives a bus anymore for 50 years?
That day was the first day of being in love with teachers and classrooms and circles of kids like me. There was a snack time with graham crackers and milk, and nap times lying on the floor like little puppies on rugs with the lights dimmed. Did we sleep? Could we manage being still long enough?
I couldn't manage being quiet. I was moved every day for the first I-don't-know-how-many days because of talking. Well? Everything and everyone was so interesting and I had something to say! Probably today little people like me are considered attention deficit something and medication is recommended to keep us still and quiet and focused. Back in the once upon a time of my first days of school my teacher just loved me enough to quietly move me and remind me that talking caused that. I talked therefore I moved! A lot.
Then, subsequent 'first days' came into being, bringing sights and smells and sounds that are ancient history now. Purple print on slightly damp pages being one in particular. Brand new leather shoes. Girls in frilly dresses and boys in dungarees. Children playing red rover and on monkey bars. I imagine the smell of freshly sharpened pencils and new boxes of crayons are still wafting through the classrooms today, but that may be obsolete soon, too.
I wonder what scents from today's classrooms will be remembered years from now?
And I wonder when it was we started being more worried about what others thought of us than of what we thought of ourselves?
Maybe for me it was when we moved from the house in the country to live in town with my grandmother. The new school was only blocks away from our house, so we walked to school and even home for lunch because it was assumed that most moms stayed home. My first day of school there was my scariest because this time everything was new to me, but known to the rest of my classmates. And I was in a full length cast and on crutches. That was the first time I remember feeling like everyone was looking at me. Maybe they were. Probably they weren't. May be they all felt like they had something stare-worthy.
That twisting, tugging, self-conscious phase lasted through middle school when on that first day of school I was more concerned whether the cute boy who sat behind me in home room would notice me (he didn't) than what class I was taking.
I wonder if that kind of preoccupation is the fodder for the life-long dreams of getting half-way through a semester and not remembering what or where the classes were?
Lots of 'first days of school' followed, through high school and, for me, college. Music will always be a major anchor through those first days; 'War' (Huh! Good God, y'all!), 'You've Got a Friend', Brandy (I didn't say I always liked the songs!) and my all time favorite.... 'Let's Get It On'....... because by that time, of course, I was.
Then the first days of school were those of my children (not immediately, though from the previous sentence it might appear possible...) and I was the mom waving bravely at the bus keeping the separation tears at bay until the little person I loved most in the world was safely on his or her way. I wanted Charlie to be driving. I wanted to pin handkerchiefs to their shirts.
I should have pinned a note to my little boy saying he was NOT a walker because his first day of school ended with him coming through the door having navigated the mile-plus of busy streets and no sidewalks on foot. I learned what a courageous little man I had and hugged him hard against me, imagining all the things that might have happened but didn't. Then I learned the touchy role of angry parent with a school system that could determine my child's attitude toward school for the rest of his life. I trod gently.
I remember watching my pre-teen daughter walking into her middle school for the first time and tugging on the hems and tails of her clothing in obvious self-conscious discomfort. And I remembered it again. I remembered thinking I was the one others would be watching critically and determining 'un-cool' before I had a chance to prove myself. I ached for her. I wanted to run up and put my arms around her to tell her she was completely beautiful and, more importantly, smart and talented and didn't have anything to be self-conscious about. I didn't, though, because that would have made it worse.
She wasn't alone. I watched every other girl her age twisting and tugging and looking to see if anyone was watching. And I knew there were other moms and dads out there remembering and hurting for their little girls.
And guess what? My children were 'talkers' too! Unlike the teachers or my mother from long ago, I knew that talking would NOT be the curse that was impressed upon me. Their teachers were kindly told that, though I would indeed discuss appropriate contribution in the classroom with my kids, I would never see it as anything but a blessing. I would always prefer that my children have the confidence and courage to speak out as opposed to sitting and watching silently on the sidelines. And the teachers couldn't - and fortunately didn't - disgree!
I wonder if I did the right thing? I will probably always wonder if I did the right thing when it comes to raising my kids.
So, today was the first day of school and for the first time in my life (almost) I didn't have any connection with it. My daughter is a college educated woman with a loving husband and no longer tugging on her shirt tails (mostly) and my little walking boy is newly graduated and now commuting to his job in a town more than a thousand miles away from me. It is an end of an era. And the tears are close to the surface.
This past year has been my year of being 4-years-old with nothing to do but wake up and look forward to a fresh, wide-opened day of discovery. I loved being 4 now as I did then. It has been a freedom and a joy. And just as I was excited then about being 5 and looking forward to my first day of school, I am joyfully looking forward to this next great adventure, whatever that may be.
I am, though, entering this next stage with the full knowledge that there will be emotions of every kind to explore along with new ways of being in this world. There will be fascinating people to know and love as well as so many places yet to explore. And there is much work to do which I consider to be our love made manifest in this world.
All this while I am still learning not to tug at my clothes and worry what other people think of me.