Lori and I ad such great plans for Nick’s 1st day of 2nd grade. She would make the breakfast of champions – waffles, poached eggs, and spam with almond butter and flax smoothies. We would pump the kids up with Schoolhouse Rock “knowledge is power” music. And we would be in the car by 7:30 so we had enough time for the entire family to see Nick off before we dropped our younger ones off at daycare.
At 7:45, we were in 2 different cars – Lori had Gabe and Olivia – at least one of them was screaming; the other was whimpering. And I had Nick. After quick “I love you’s” we headed our separate ways.
Hadn’t we pre-packed the car the night before, set the breakfast table and placed backpacks and shoes by the door?
Well, Olivia fell into the wire fence that protects our garden when she tried to grab a few tomatoes before school. Gabe suddenly realized that he did not have a haircut like his brother, and needed one this instant. And Nick, upon seeing an ant carrying a Cheerio, made us stop our frantic “We gotta go, people!” chant to move said ant off the parking pad lest we inadvertently step on it.
This was not what I had envisioned.
We had spent the summer prepping Nick for this day – cramming word problems, double-digit addition, and basic multiplication into our afternoons. And of course, we had worked on paying attention and listening the first time because these were skills that kept you out of the principal’s office, a place we knew a little too well.
“OK, Nick. This year is gonna to be awesome! But we need to stay focused, OK? We’re going to listen with our whole body. That means no interrupting and no talking about beluga whales just because that’s what you want to talk about. OK, kiddo?”
Nick stared out the window.
“Hey, Nick,” I said a little more insistently. “Did you hear what I said?”
“Can you tell me what I just said to you?”
Yeah, this was going to be great. Sigh.
The school parking lot was a mess of school supply boxes, anxious parents and nervous kids. As I parked the car, I felt the first prick of tears, but willed myself not to cry. After all, this was old hat – this drop off that at first was a long goodbye, but by June would be a cursory “see ya” as he raced to his buddies, not once looking back at the car.
I almost made it through the next 15 minutes with nary a tear.
It wasn’t the sight of my firstborn looking so grownup in his pressed khaki shorts, crisp white shirt and smart navy vest that made the tears fall. It seemed like just yesterday he was bounding off to preschool in his fire truck shirt and misshapen green crocs…
It wasn’t the fidgety excitement of the kindergartners, nor the feigned indifference of the 8th-graders that nearly set me off. No matter the age, they all greeted their teachers with shy smiles and heartfelt hugs…
And it wasn’t the fellow parents who busied themselves with imagined stray hairs from back-to-school haircuts. They wiped sleep from the eyes of their children as they held back tears in their own…
No, it was none of these things.
It was watching Nick peel off from his left-foot-right-foot-single-line class march to the front door to check on Oliver, a 3rd grader, who clung desperately to his mother. Two figures paralyzed as the sea of students parted around them, nevertheless flowing past them.
“Oliver,” Nick called, as he pushed his way through the crowd.
“Nick, come back!”
If he heard me, he gave no indication. He was polite, but insistent, making his way toward a child I didn’t even know.
“IdontwanttogoIdontwanttogoPleasedontmakemego.” The child’s chant rose above the din. His mother rubbed his back, and I saw the first stirrings of doubt in her watery eyes. Perhaps they could try again tomorrow…when there is less commotion…but it’s the first day of school…
“Oliver?” Nick craned his neck to meet the boy’s downcast eyes. “It’ll be OK. It’s just like last year, but now you get to learn more.” It’s funny to hear your own words echoed in your child’s mouth.
“I-I-I-I’m scared,” Oliver whispered.
Nick drew a little closer. “I’m a little nervous too. But then Mommy and Nana reminded me about my friends, and my new desk and – “ He whipped out the highlight of out last-minute Target run – “A new water bottle!”
That’s when I lost it, seeing Nick comfort his friend, despite all of the excitement around him.
“Nick, sweetie,” I prodded gently, dabbing at my eyes. “The 1st bell is about to ring.”
Nick touched Oliver’s hand. “I’ll see you at lunch, OK?”
“OK,” Oliver replied, still clinging, still unsure.
I don’t know how Oliver did on his first day of school. I do know that he made it from the parking lot to the hallway, his mom on one side, the principal on the other, both promising that the next 7 hours would be just fine.
As for Nick? Well, I think he did fine, though getting a 7-year-old to share anything past a single word is almost impossible.
I don’t know what he’ll learn this year, and I don’t know how much our prep over the summer will help him. But I do know that he teaches me something every day – about being compassionate, and present and infinitely patient when he sees somebody in need.
Nicholas – victory of the people
Always remembering the things we forget are important.
My dear, sweet boy.
You got me, kid.