First day of kindergarten a new experience for dad, too

jmarks@lakewyliepilot.comAugust 26, 2013 

It’s a great scene, even for Hollywood.

The pint-sized defender wide-eyed through gray face mask, golden domes glistening as thousands await what’ll be their first go at all this hoopla. A teammate asks if he’s ready.

“I’ve been ready for this day my whole life.”

I turn to my oldest Wednesday morning, buttoned-down and combed, sporting a matching Panthers backpack and lunch box. Only one of us has been ready for this day his whole life. Someday I’ll be used to it. Someday I won’t be a raving mess. But to borrow another line from Rudy, it “ain’t gonna be this day.”

“Starting kindergarten is indeed a special time for the student and parent alike,” said Chuck Epps, superintendent of the Fort Mill School District and perhaps as notably, my own elementary school principal. “For most families, this is the first time their child will be away from home for a significant part of the day.”

My child’s school is blue and gold, but not very different from the 33 other elementary schools countywide. Thousands of kindergartners were starting in districts that are, by most accounts, good to great ones. Yet this first day doesn’t seem so quantitative. It’s pitifully personal.

That’s because we’re literally leaving a part of ourselves – for most of us the best part – at these schoolhouse doors and asking a stranger to take care of it.

I cook my boy the breakfast he picked out two days ago. I slept last night like a gas station hot dog. I know I shouldn’t be bothered. My wife teaches right across the hall, for heaven’s sake.

My son has two teachers. I went to school with one and church with the other. It’s not like we’re leaving him with grandparents in a candy shop. These people have training.

“It’s important to note that this transition is another step in a child’s life in developing their independence,” Epps said. “It comforts me in knowing that our teachers and principals are skilled with a variety of strategies to ease separation anxieties.”

After several posed pictures, we load the minivan and drive. We’re within a mile of the school before it starts – cars, cars everywhere. More cars than on our playroom floor Charlotte commuters wound tight in their ties and collared shirts. Blue lights orchestrating us all.

It’s actually kind of nice. The chaos soothes me. Even as we get to the school and park, an accomplishment requiring no fewer than four three-point turns. I’ve parked on the sides of mountains less eventfully.

A neighbor whose twins start today, but who’s been down this road before, offers to take a family photo. The boy clings to the back of my leg like it’s a life raft. Inside, his mother carries our newborn through a sea of colleagues. It’s a bit like accompanying The Beatles.

Teachers everywhere assure parents it gets better, easier. Our son will love these people, but doesn’t yet. We have to decide between a great first day and a great picture. The shutter stops. I watch the parents as we leave.

No doubt some will fist pump for newfound freedom. Some, like me, are just trying to hold it together.

We head back to the van, then home, then I’m off to work. I need a little social mediation. First day photos flood my feeds. It’s a gamut. There’s enough sobbing to put an ash and sackcloth salesman into retirement. A college friend swears parents are celebrating not having to pay for daycare or bulk bologna.

I spend the rest of my day waiting for dismissal. A close friend and elementary school principal in Rock Hill often says the first day is all about getting them in, getting them fed and getting them home. I’ll take it. That last bell rings. I’m waiting in the car line.

I try keeping calm, which isn’t easy. I’ve been blubbering over this kid since he was an ultrasound. Cried the day I met him. Cried his first night in a big boy bed. I cried the first time he lined a Wiffleball off my noggin and onto our roof.

I think about these schools. The Rock Hill principal, the countless Clover and Lake Wylie administrators I’ve worked with, my wife and the better half of her Facebook entourage who teach in Fort Mill.

These are people who drive me up the bulletin-boarded wall with talk of winter break and spring break and summer break and could’ve-snowed-break. Give me a break, already.

But today, I wouldn’t trust anyone more.

We read and write of area schools as tax rates, total hires, facility needs and bond proposals. At their best they’re places full of people just like us, who understand I’d gladly give every paycheck I’ll ever earn before I’d let anything happen to this mini-me by the pick-up curb.

He loads in and it’s killing me not vomiting out a hundred questions at once. He answers the only one that matters before I ask.

“School is fun,” he says.

It’s taking everything within me not to pick him up onto my shoulders, carry him off to an adoring crowd chanting and fade to black.

But this isn’t a movie. This is just the first day.

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