The (First) First Day of School

The first day of school is a time of change, of new beginnings, of new morning routines that cause family members to rush out the door forgetting something quasi-important, like a bookbag or pants. This causes both you and your wife to place blame:

Wife: “I would have helped our child remember her bookbag if you would have helped make her breakfast or pack her lunch!”

You: “I would have remembered my pants if my legs weren’t so darn sexy!”

And so on.

As you get in the car and start to drive, you finally pause for a moment and take in the fact that it’s your child’s first day of school. And for the lucky few of us who have young children, it’s our child’s first first day of school. It’s the first time you get to hold her hand as you walk to the classroom. It’s the first time that bookbag--which is three times the size of her body--bounces up and down as she excitedly leaves you behind at the door. It’s the first time you let her go. It’s also the first time in your life that you ever shed a tear, because as men we’ve never, ever cried before in our lives. (Unless you are a Cubs fan, then you probably cry all the time.)

This wasn’t the first time I’d been through a first first day of school with a child, but it was the first time I’d been through a first first day of school with my middle daughter, Anna (though she did look adorable when she tried on her sister's bookbag two years ago). Like most three year olds on the morning of, she glowed with a healthy mix of excitement, joy and nervousness. She slid on her outfit--the one she had hand-picked--ate her breakfast and was ready to go faster than any woman has ever gotten ready to go in the history of time. (I kid. Kind of.) Her enthusiasm was admirable and something I shared. I had dreamed about her learning new songs, reading new books, spelling words and understanding sign language, all things my eldest daughter had learned in her time there. I asked Anna what she had dreamed about. She replied “Snack time.”

We pulled up to the school and her eyes lit up, as if we were staring at a big building made of cotton candy. Her best friend, who was also about to experience her first first day of school, came running up to us and laid a big hug on my daughter. Their excitement was overwhelming.

“We’re going to school!” she yelled.
“I know!” my daughter yelled.
“Do you like my bookbag?” she yelled.
“Do you like my bookbag? my daughter yelled.
“Did anyone notice that I got my haircut?” I yelled.

Apparently the excitement is reserved strictly for those under 3. Which is a shame, because it really was an awesome haircut.

The teacher finally opened the door and waved us all in. My wife, who had shown up moments before, took Anna’s hand and said “Are you ready?” Anna shook her head yes. I shook my head no.

You see, sending your child off to school will happen a lot over your lifetime, but sending him or her off for the first time is a one-time thing. It’s a moment you’ll never get back, so you have to soak it up as much as you can. You need to remember how amazed she was to see her name on her preschool locker. You can’t forget how she wandered around the classroom in amazement, playing with all the toy phones and dry erase boards she could get her hands on. You need to smile when she excitedly points out that there’s a tiny toilet and sink in the bathroom that are “just her size.” These things matter. Take it all in, because this is the moment you begin to set her free. And once that process starts, there’s no stopping it--no matter how you try. (And trust me, I try all the time.)

I know I can’t keep Anna small forever (or any of my daughters, for that matter), but I can keep these memories and hold them close to my heart forever. And when she’s grown and heading off to college, I can recall her first day and tell her about it, walking her through each moment step by step. I’ll start to tear up. Maybe she will too. I’ll look her deep in her eyes and say, “Anna, I love you so much and am so proud of you.”

She will look deep in my eyes and say, “Dad, if you ever try to drop me off at school without wearing pants I will disown you.”

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