The busy elementary hallway might as well have been a crowded airport terminal, with drop-offs, angst-filled passengers sprinting towards their gates and sloppy good-byes. One kid we passed along our way to my daughter’s classroom was clutching his mother’s leg, sobbing so hard that he…couldn’t…catch…his…breath.
The first day of school is an emotional event for both parents and kids, especially when it’s the first day of Pre-K. And so last Monday, it happened to be my daughter Zoe’s very first day. Zoe represents the last of our four children to begin her educational journey – and it began slowly.
We walked down the hall, every step was carefully measured the way a barefoot parent walks through a child’s toy-riddled room in the dark. I tried to steer her clear of as many crying kids as I could, if anything to help support my efforts in convincing her that school was an awesome place where she could make friends and have fun and eat cool snacks.
This attempt was futile, of course. One kid ran out of his classroom and chased down his mother like a lion to a gazelle, which caught a lot of people by surprise. It reminded me of a jailbreak, the look on the boy’s face was one of sheer determination and panic (“You will not take me alive!”).
“Why can’t I just stay at Grandma’s house?” Zoe asked my wife and I in the days leading up to the First Day.
“Because you have to go to school and learn,” I responded, which, to a smart 4-year-old probably sounded like a stupid canned response all parents are supposed to say as if the government was secretly eavesdropping on us.
The more I thought about it, the more this 4-year-old had a point. Thanks to the extended time she has spent with her grandma, Zoe knows how to speak Spanish, she knows how to share, give and love. She’s learned to be compassionate, not just in seeing her grandmother’s interaction with others, but the child truly has expressed concern over her grandmother’s well being. To say that these two have formed a unique bond would be an understatement.
But sometimes you have to go with the stupid canned response to certain questions kids ask.
Because as much as you have benefitted from being exposed to your grandmother the last several years, going to school and developing relationships with kids your own age is going to help you actually apply the terrific qualities that grandma has taught you. You need school because this is where you get to use those street smarts, the ones that are going to get you in (and more importantly) out of trouble. It’s where you’re going to learn how to adapt, how to respond to adversity, stupid bullies, jealous you-know-whats and other creeps, I wanted to rant but couldn’t because what father actually says these things to a 4-year-old?
Even though I’m all grown up now (my maturity is a little in question, I’ll admit), I still miss my grandma. I miss the way she worked her old stove like some festival DJ, spinning delicious magic at the drop of a hat. I remember feeling safe, sound and carefree every time I paid her visit.
So I totally get where Zoe is coming from.
It’s a feeling I want all four of my children to always remember because even though they’ll grow up and carve out their own paths, I want them to understand that no matter how far that path takes them, no matter how chaotic and noisy the world can be, they will never be too far removed from that feeling of safety, security and love they experienced when they were little.
Like a scene out of Platoon, Zoe dropped everything and ran to me as if to avoid a huge grenade blast (in what seemed like super slo-mo) when I picked her up later that day. She cried on my shoulder as I carried her to the car.
“Do we have to do this again tomorrow?” she asked.
I love visiting schools and talking to kids. I’m currently writing a collection of short stories and essays called Your Poor Mother: The trials of raising 5 sons. My next children’s book, Pancakes For Dinner! will be published by Waldorf Publishing in 2017.