Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Those First Day Jitters

As a parent, I look forward to the first day of school a LOT more than I did as a kid. When you're a kid, the start of school means the sad, depressing end of summer. But for parents, it ushers in nine months of routine, child care, engagement, and normalcy. 

School brings its own host of new problems of course; but overall, homework, after-school clubs, parent-teacher conferences, and peer drama are all a welcome reprieve from the cabin fever and generalized limping-along we've been doing for the past few dreary, late-August weeks in Juneau.

When I left Paige at her third grade classroom this morning, she was all smiles, reconnecting with old friends and looking around her new classroom excitedly. She's one of those kids who loves school and isn't easily victimized by bullies, neither of which were qualities I had the good fortune to enjoy at her age.

I was a maladjusted masochist and a regular victim of playground taunts. I pursued hopeless, dead-end friendships with mean girls from wealthy families. I couldn't sit still in class or keep my place in a play or recital. Teachers were always evicting me from the classroom for being a disruption and a distraction. I cried and had stomach aches each morning, and I visited the school nurse at every opportunity just to escape the crushing stress of it all.

Despite Paige's cheery demeanor and overall enthusiasm for all things scholastic, I could tell she was nervous in her own way about the start of a new school year. She was weepy and prickly last night, throwing disproportionately dramatic fits over being denied a spoon of ice cream, slamming her bedroom door, and wailing that "NOBODY CARES ABOUT ME!" She woke up no fewer than four times last night, and was dressed and ready to leave the house by 5:00 a.m.

In the halls and on the playground, kids and parents were milling about catching up with each other. Looking around, I homed in on a petite blonde woman standing alone. I didn't recognize her, which because of Juneau's size likely means her family is new to town, or at least new to this particular school district. She had two matching backpacks and lunchboxes at her feet, which by their colors seemed to belong to a boy and a girl. She looked as nervous as any kid there. I smiled at her and she smiled back wanly. I was about to introduce myself when the bell rang, and all the parents and children hustled inside to drop their kids at their classrooms.

The woman was there with her son in Paige's classroom. I could see her whispering soothing words to him, close to his face, which was crumpled in tears in a corner of the room. I'm the kind of person who always notices this sort of thing in a crowd. So why didn't I say something? I should have been that mom this woman will remember as having approached her and her son on Day One of a new school. I could feel my own stomach doing flipflops in empathy with the mother-son duo, and still I just stood there.

I definitely feel like I choked in this moment, but of course it's not necessarily my place to act as Goodwill Ambassador of the Third Grade or the Simone Biles of parent-child elementary school social/psychological gymnastics. Still, I'll be thinking of this family all day, and I'm making a pact with myself to go for gold the next time I see them.

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