Today is my nephew Luke’s first day of kindergarten. In honor of that, I’m posting something I wrote about my son Sam’s first day that happened three long years ago:
The First Day
It’s 6:30 a.m. and I’m in bed half-asleep. Or at least I am until I feel a little hand start to pat my cheek. Cracking open my eyes in the dim morning light, I see Sam, standing next to the bed, smiling like it’s his birthday or Christmas or something. I squint at him blurrily and seem to remember something big is happening today, but I’m not quite awake enough to grasp what it is. “Good morning, mommy,” Sam whispers. “Guess what day it is today?”
“Oh, honey,” I croak. “I don’t know. What day is it?”
“IT’S MY FIRST DAY OF KINDERGARTEN!” he shouts.
Jolted awake, I leap out of bed, which does my groggy 38-year-old head no favors, then take a deep breath and look into Sam’s eager little face. And then, very gently, very kindly, and in my most motherly voice possible, I blurt back, “Oh, crap. That’s TODAY?”
But of course I know it’s today. After all, I’ve talked of nothing but kindergarten for months now, trying to get Sam in the appropriate state of educational hyperactivity that would set him on the path to genius. And when I wasn’t talking about it, I was thinking about it. Or e-mailing about it. Or drawing abstract pictures of it in crayon. Basically, I’d been a 100-percent, total kindergarten freak ever since he “graduated” from preschool last spring, just like all of the other moms I knew.
“Did you go to your kindergarten round-up?” we’d ask each other. “Did you get him registered? Did you figure out which teacher you want? Is your school highly ranked? Is it ranked higher than ours? What’s the teacher to student ratio?” It almost felt like I was taking a test, even though I wasn’t even the one going to school.
As the first day grew closer, we kept busy attending kinder socials, and kinder orientations, and we spent hours shopping for new pencils, notebooks, and folders. I even took Sam to the mall where he tried to impress the teenage salesgirl at The Gap by telling her he needed “cool” pants for kindergarten. Soon came the flurry of excitement as everyone in the neighborhood received their class assignments, and immediately compared notes. By the time “Meet the Teacher Night,” came around, I was exhausted.
“Was it this crazy when I started kindergarten?” I asked my mom one night on the phone.
“Oh, please,” she said with a snort, “We just dropped you off at the front door with a nap towel under your arm, and hoped you’d make it through the day without peeing your pants.”
Stifling a yawn, I kneel down in front of Sam so I can get a good look at him. Unlike most mornings when he stays in his p.j.s until the last possible moment, today he’s already dressed himself in the outfit we picked out last night – Star Wars underwear, cargo shorts, a light blue polo shirt, and the de rigueur Crocs. The blonde rooster tails that nest in his hair are all loudly crowing; the kid is nothing short of adorable. But then I take a longer look at him and notice that he seems to be having trouble keeping the wary smile from sliding off of his face. In fact, he sort of looks like one of those unstable contestants on American Idol. Like he’s waiting to hear what Simon thought of his off-key rendition of “Heatwave.” Excitement meets nausea meets terror. It’s not a good look, to say the least.
I put my finger on Sam’s chin, gently pull his face over to mine and say, “Hey, kiddo. What I meant to say is, of course I didn’t forget about today. It’s your big day! You’re a kindergartner now. Yay!” He smiles at me tentatively, but then surprises me by leaning in for a hug—something most five-year-old boys avoid like the plague. As I hold on to him, I fight back tears, and two thoughts immediately pop into my head. One: It’s going to be a hell of a long day. And two: Would it be totally unacceptable to have a shot of tequila right now? Just to take the edge off a little? I decide against it, but only because the liquor store isn’t open yet.
After settling Sam and his brother Jack down to breakfast and a few minutes of The Backyardigans, I pop open a Diet Coke and begin the first day of what would now become our daily dash to get ready for school. Lunch packed? Check. Backpack organized? Check. Paperwork signed? Check. Wearing a bra and clean clothing so that the other parents don’t think I’m a deranged carnival worker on the loose? Aw, shit.
But by 7:20 a.m., I’m pleased to see that everything’s pretty much under control. At least nobody’s in the closet, curled into the fetal position and sucking their thumb, anyway. Then my husband Chris walks in. He waves at me sleepily, sits down next to Sam and ruffles his hair, saying, “Hey! Look at you, all ready for kindergarten.” I smile as I take in this nice father/son moment, but then, to my horror, an expression of uncertainty flashes on Chris’ face and he scoots just a little closer to Sam. This is not going to go well; I just know it.
Now, up until this point, Chris has been very relaxed about Sam starting school. Very relaxed. “What’s the big deal?” has been his standard response every time I’ve freaked out about teachers, school supplies, Sam’s future in the U.S. Senate, etc. So I guess you could say that when he suddenly starts peppering Sam with more questions than a Guantanamo Bay detainee faces on a daily basis, it’s a bit of a surprise.
“Are you excited, Sam? Do you know your classroom number? Is it 120? 121? 122? Do you remember that Mommy and Daddy will pick you up right after school? Do you know where we’ll be? Do you know what the door looks like? Is it black? Brown? Tan? Corrugated aluminum? Which is it?? Do you know your teacher’s name? What about her middle name? Does that have a silent “t” at the end? Do you know our home phone number? Do you think it’s going to rain? Do you think it’s going to hail? Do you think the barometric pressure will drop or just stay the same for a few hours? What’s the square root of 360? Is it 10? 14? 16? What is it? WHAT IS IT?!”
Fortunately, both of our boys are too far under the spell of the TV to notice that their daddy has suddenly morphed into Regis Philbin on crack, so I’m able to pull Chris away before he starts in on the lightning round.
“What are you doing?” I hiss. “He’s already freaked out enough today. He doesn’t need your help.”
“What are you talking about?” he stammers. “I was just asking him about kindergarten.”
“Oh, come on. You were 10 seconds away from bringing out a waterboard and nipple clamps. I mean, I’m pretty sure the kid doesn’t know where Osama Bin Laden’s hiding, so can you lay off, please?”
He just looks at me and shrugs, and I realize for the first time that maybe he’s a little anxious about this whole thing, too.
Softening, I say, “Listen, it’s alright to be kind of nervous about today. I know I am.”
And upon hearing that, he instantly regains his footing. “First of all, I’m not nervous,” he responds. “What’s the big deal, anyway? It’s just kindergarten. He’s just going to go sit in a room with a bunch of kids learning his ABC’s and singing songs about bunnies. So, there’s nothing to worry about, right?”
To be continued…