Today was hard.
I didn’t think it would be, but it was. There were too many “firsts.”
Beth began the training for her new job today, about 90 miles from home. She needed to be in Ellsworth from 8 am until 5 pm. That meant, for the first time ever, no Mom for the first day of school. Add to that the butterflies surrounding a new beginning (and terrible ragweed allergies), and nobody got much sleep in my bedroom last night.
It’s Jake’s first day of 7th grade. We’d done all we could to make the first day a success. He’d had his extended school year at the middle school. He knows his teacher, and his special ed team hasn’t changed. Even his 1:1 ed tech is the same. Still, there were nerves. After the kids had gone to bed last night, Jake came downstairs and told us that he was “scared of tomorrow.” Also, that he was “a little bit nervous” and unable to “get some sleep.” This morning he confessed that he was “scared of school buses.” He’s never ridden one for school. Sure, there’ve been field trips, but he’s not had to use one in a typical fashion. He and Liv are going to take the bus from the middle school to the elementary school, where they’ll meet up with Gabe and go home with Beth. Once she’s done her training, of course.
Liv was freaked because it’s her first day of 5th grade, which means it’s her first day in the middle school. New teacher, new building, new expectations, and – wouldn’t you know it – her core group of “best friends” are all in the other class. Every. Single. One. This means no built-in safety net of familiarity. What if she didn’t know where to go? Where to stand? What to do?
I look at it as a wonderful way to make new friends. She’s outgoing, doesn’t do drama (yet, I’m a realist), and people are drawn to her. I wasn’t half as worried as she was.
Gabe was a cool cucumber this morning. He had a cold lunch packed (in case the café served something he didn’t like), his new sneakers made him feel fast and tall, and he was headed back to his old stomping grounds. In fact, I never even took the van out of drive. I stopped, gave him a quick kiss, and off he went to carpe some diem.
Liv had initially wanted me to stick close to her until she got her bearings. But, I told her, all the other kids assemble in the gym prior to the beginning of class. Jake and I use the “secret” entrance with less traffic – that just happens to be by his classroom. We walked up the drive together, and then we parted ways. When Jake threw open the door, he saw his Spec. Ed director, Miss O. He stopped mid-stride (I don’t think his foot hit the ground), and he made a hasty retreat back into the school yard. I heard a mumbled, “you’ve got to be kidding me” muttered under his breath as he passed me. I opted to give him some space. Miss O went to him after a spell and he was lured into his room. There he found Mrs. P waiting. He made a bee line for the corner of the room and hid his face, saying, “I’m scared.” On the one hand, it’s disheartening to see your child like this (especially when he’s 12), but on the other hand, it’s so encouraging to see him put voice to his feelings instead of just “reacting.”
I was glad we came early.
After some gentle coaxing, and being given a little space, he came out of his shell a bit and started unpacking his things. I took this opportunity to check in with his bus chaperone and give her a head’s up to his fears. I also touched base with the principal, for much the same reason. I waved to Liv in the bleachers of the gym. She and her friends waved back – they were having fun. One less thing to fret about.
Everyone seemed to know their role, and I felt good about having fulfilled Beth’s only mandate for me that morning: “Make sure Jake gets off to a good start!”
It’s worth it to mention that at this point, I was the only parent in the building. Middle school is nothing like elementary school. There were no parent-paparazzi with their incessant picture taking and mothering. I went back to check in with Jake after the other 7th graders had filed down the hall and saw him with Mrs. P, reviewing his handout like the rest of the kids. Of course, the teacher, Mrs. R, made a point to stop talking and recognize me in front of the class. I told her I just wanted to wave goodbye to Jake, and when I did so, he put his head down on the desk in an embarrassed fashion. If there’s anything more age-appropriate than a 7th grader being embarrassed by his Dad on the first day, I don’t know what it is. It made my heart swell 2 sizes.
I cut through the library and stood leaning in a doorway, waiting for the 5th graders. All of a sudden, I was struck by an idea – Liv probably wouldn’t want me to come to her room and ooh and aahh over her, like we’d done in years past. She’s a 5th grader now. I was instantly crushed, but just as quickly proud of the idea that if this were true, she was going to be OK after all.
I saw her walking down the hall amidst Mrs. D’s other kids, and we did a very subtle eye-contact/sign-language thing that only those very close to one another could pull off. It took about a half a second, and I don’t think anyone else saw it, but the transcription would read:
“I’m here if you need me.”
“No, Dad, I’m all set. You can go.”
“You sure? I’ll stay if you want me to.”
“I’ll be fine. Just go to work.”
“You got it. I’m out – have fun. I love you.”
“I love you, too. Now scram!”
Feeling proud of myself for only embarrassing one of my kids in front of their whole class, I turned without saying word, cut back through the library, so as to not be more noticed than necessary, and let myself out the back door.
On the way to work, I kept going back to how nervous I was. It’s like at the end of the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle movie Gabe made me watch on Labor Day. At the end, Leonardo apologizes to Master Splinter for leaving the sewer when they were not yet ready. Splinter tells him that yes, they were ready – it was he who was not ready to let them go. That’s pretty deep for a talking, mutated, Ninja rat.
I think that’s every parent’s fear as well. I don’t take for granted one single night that my kids are safely tucked into their beds, at home, safe and sound. I want to be there to shelter them from the world’s evil, and help them solve all of their problems. I’m mature enough to keep this to myself (mostly), but it’s there. Succeed or fail, they were going to have to do it on their own; and I didn’t even have Beth’s shoulder to cry on.
A review of day one will be forthcoming soon.
As always, thanks for listening.