The Last First Day

By Piper Bayard

Fall. The time when the years of bottles, diapers, potty training, play dates, eaten refrigerator magnets and beans up noses culminate in that most memorable of days, the First Day of Kindergarten. The day when mothers finally get to have a hot meal and possibly a drink for the first time since before pregnancy. Who care’s that it isn’t even noon?

Photo by Patsy Lynch, FEMA Photo Library, Wikimedia Commons

My son was terrified as I half drug him into the boutique charter school I had carefully vetted in my search for the foundation that would prevent him from making permanent, adult-sized dents in my couch at the age of eighteen. Back then, he still wanted to marry me when he grew up, and he thought digging in the back yard was the perfect career. With a quick hug and my best motherly assurances, I dashed away before he could see the tears streaming down my cheeks.

I spent the next two and a half hours imagining him singing with his class, frolicking at recess, and laughing with new friends. Then I rushed to pick him up, and this is what I found.

“I HATE THIS SCHOOL! THESE TEACHERS ARE MEAN, MEAN, MEAN, AND I’M NEVER COMING BACK AGAIN!”

My perfect angel was slouched in the hallway, already banished from the classroom and its bounty. Thus began our journey.

In the past eleven years, I have learned many lessons.

  • The fancy charter school in the next town over is not necessarily better than the unremarkable school up the street.
  • Children really ARE just like their parents.
  • All teachers say they want volunteers.
  • Some teachers actually do want volunteers.
  • Most teachers say they want volunteers because it’s District policy, but they actually pray in their hearts that they will never, ever have to talk to a parent outside of parent/teacher conferences because parents really ARE just like their children.
  • If I don’t believe everything my children say about their teachers, perhaps their teachers won’t believe everything my children say about me.

Photo of Schulers Donuts by Cindy Funk, Wikimedia Commons

  • And MOST importantly, exercise liberal Donut Diplomacy. Nothing receives a higher Good Will Return Quotient than a dozen donuts strategically delivered to the office staff periodically throughout the year. Trust me. The good will of the office staff is invaluable at blasting away the inevitable obstacles in the journey, and if there are enough donuts to share with the faculty and administrators, the Good Will Benefits compound exponentially.

My son and I visited colleges this summer. Turns out he is a born engineer, and he’s still out to proove digging is a career.

Today, he and I drove his terrified baby sister to her first day of high school. Our Last First Day on our family’s public school journey. He had some advice for her.

  • Don’t be narcissistic. You’ll stand out in a bad way.
  • If you’re going to play volleyball when high school boys are watching, no little shorts for you. You’ll have to find a way to play it in a burka.
  • Get a thicker skin. When you’re swimming with sharks, don’t bleed.

Together, we booted her out of the car with our love and the comforting lie that the three pounds she gained this week in her  “salty meats therapy session” (aka compulsive salami consumption brought on by starting-high-school anxiety) didn’t really create a muffin top.

On this Last First Day, I do my children the now rare favor of picking up their belongings and planning a special dinner for them. But only after I duct tape the refrigerator door shut on the salami and fight off the weakness in my heart that says a couple of adult-sized dents in my couch might not be so bad.

What have your First Days been like? What are the lessons you’ve learned in your educational journeys?

 

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35 comments on “The Last First Day

  1. When the teacher calls to tell you your angel did something wrong, they didn`t make it up. Your kid usually did something wrong. Don`t get defensive, tell the teacher you`ll deal with it, and you expect the behavior to change. And of course, discuss with the little angel. Or devil. It`s part of learning how to deal with “the man.” Got to play by the rules whether you -or they-like it or not. That`s what I`ve learned.

    I also have a salami eater.

    Great post!

    • Piper Bayard says:

      I had no idea there were so many salami bingers out there. Salami is certainly tasty so it makes sense, though.

      Great point about learning how to deal with “the man.” My son had the chemistry teacher from hell last year. It was a major effort for the entire family to get him through that experience, but I kept reminding him the whole time that one of the things he will need to learn in life is how to deal with difficult people. He may have to go some period of his life with a person like that as his boss, and knowing how to placate them will come in handy.

  2. amyskennedy says:

    What a special post. So many firsts. I’m hesitant to speak of last firsts though, because new firsts keep popping up. I have two older kids (adults) and one in middle school — when all is said and done I’ll have been going to Parent/Teacher conferences for…27 years.

    And last year we had our granddaughter’s first day of Kindergarten!

    And you are sosososo right on the front office thing — make friends there, or, at the very least, no enemies!

    • Piper Bayard says:

      Wow, Amy. Your gravitar must be at least 20 years old for you to have a grandchild in kindergarten.

      27 years of parent/teacher conferences? I’m curious as to what your experience has been with the changing school system. What have you seen change the most over the years, and do you think it’s a change for the better?

      • amyskennedy says:

        When I started, it was parent/teacher conferences — with my youngest it changed to parent/teacher/student conference. In middle school he (my kid) sort of runs the conference. So the child evaluates themselves — and what they need to improve on. Not done yet — but I’m sure it’s like this anywhere — sweeping changes and then a few years later, back to basics…

        But the teachers seem the same, most are good, some are awesome.
        P.S. Thanks for the compliment on the gravitar!

        • Piper Bayard says:

          I’ve had the parent/teacher/student conference experience here and there. Some teachers here want it and some don’t. I think it’s okay sometimes, but sometimes I tell my kids, “Please leave the room a few minutes. I’d like to talk about you and not to you.”

          Like you observe, most teachers are good, and some are awesome.

    • Jenny Hansen says:

      I agree with Piper! There is just NO WAY you can look that amazingly youthful with 27 years of Parent Teacher conferences behind you. :-) You shimmer in that photo.

  3. Tami Clayton says:

    I couldn’t agree more with making friends with the front office staff/secretaries. They have their fingers on the pulse of the school in many ways and can be your greatest ally.

    As for lessons I’m learning, I could write a dozen posts on that myself. The biggest one I’ve learned so far is to let go of the educational plan I had in my head for my kid and let the one that meets her needs be the path that is taken.

    • Piper Bayard says:

      I hear you on that letting go part. I didn’t mention that the boutique charter school was a bilingual immersion school. That plan lasted exactly one year, and it would have been shorter if I had realized how much it wasn’t working for him.

      Often, the difficult part is knowing what the right plan is. Sometimes the advice the schools give is entirely self-serving while being dressed up as “what your child needs.” For example, an administrative group once suggested that I sign off on one of my children as being classified special ed because they wanted their own person to do some cognitive testing. They made it clear that no one actually thought my child belonged in special ed, but the label was necessary for their own person to proceed. I was horrified that they would manipulate my child’s school records that way with a label that would doubtless pose difficult issues, as it would stay on my child throughout the school journey and life. I was also appalled that they would cheapen the special ed program like that, taking resources away from the kids who actually need them. That child, by the way, just scored a composite score of 34 in the ACT prep class.

      Administrators and teachers are like every other group. Many are outstanding while a few are negligent and ruthless and simply can’t be trusted to behave in the children’s best interests.

      Thank you for sharing your experience.

      • Tami Clayton says:

        That is appalling! How educators can justify doing something like that is truly astounding to me.

        Absolutely agree with you – some teachers/admin folks are wonderful and amazing and do admirable work with meager pay and resources. And then there’s the arrogant, clueless people that insist on cramming a square peg into a round hole because that’s the way it’s always been done and if your kid doesn’t fit into that round hole then there’s obviously something wrong iwth the kid, not the teachers or school. The result is a disengaged kid, incredibly frustrated parents and no educating taking place. Grrr.

  4. This brought tears to my eyes and a flood of memories. My youngest is–briefly–denting my couch while he and his wife wait for their house to close. He just got his Masters in Geology. My youngest! He also had a rough transition into kindergarten. LOL!

  5. Rob Mahan says:

    Piper, nicely written (and cleverly titled) description of the last first day in your family . . . until grandkiddies start to come around, anyway. You balanced the emotions with enough humor to prevent (most) of your readers from outright sobbing.

    My son’s first day of kindergarten was yesterday. He’ll turn thirty this fall. You might enjoy a short story I wrote a few years ago, with a mild warning: I don’t think I balanced the emotions in it with enough humor, if you know what I mean.

    A Day Is The Life of Charlie O’Malley
    http://robmahanbooks.com/short-stories/a-day-is-the-life-of-charlie-omalley/

    All the best for a week of making good memories.

    Rob

  6. You reminded me of the day my youngest grandson came home from his first day of kindergarten a decade or so ago. My daughter saked him how he liked it, and he said, “Mooooom, they have RULES there!”

  7. tomwisk says:

    Elhi was a blur. First day in college was me sitting in classes visualizing myself dazzling the instructor and class with my life lessons (I started at 23). Truth was I spent a lot of time dog paddling in a whirlpool and praying.

    • Piper Bayard says:

      LOL. That was my law school experience. I really knew the score. Not like all of those pampered youngsters around me. Ha! I love how you put it. Dog paddling in a whirlpool and praying. :)

  8. Lovely post – that last bulleted bit of advice is one of the best she’ll ever get – for school and life!

  9. How about this: Don’t pretend you have all the answers. If you don’t know the answer, look someone in the eye and just admit, “I don’t know.” No one likes a faker. A good teacher can tell if you are trying to BS your way through something. Just be honest. You will never be able to read all those books. Ever.

    Just keep digging. ;-)

    Love this, Piper.

    Our boys are growing up, eh?

  10. charitykountz says:

    I will be having my first and last (only) first day of kindergarten next week. I’m a little nervous myself, just because I don’t really know what to expect that day. I’ve been lucky that she’s been going to a local pre-k program for the past year and she is very ready to start school. We’re starting her in a private Christian school for kindergarten and then will decide on a public school or private school after we see how she does.

    As for advice – my daughter has been struggling with self-esteem issues (already?! really!) so I remind her every day that she is beautiful, special, and how much we love her. And it doesn’t matter if someone else doesn’t like you – they don’t know what they are missing – their loss (I’ve actually heard her tell someone this). Be nice to everyone, even if they’re mean to you, ask for help if you need it, and share with others. Remember, God is watching even if it doesn’t seem like it and you want to make Him, Mommy and Daddy proud. All lessons I wish I’d known as a kid but now know as an adult.

    • Piper Bayard says:

      Sounds like you’re really paying close attention to your daughter. That’s the most important thing to help her have a successful journey. Enjoy the bittersweet, and thank you for sharing your experience. :)

  11. Great laugh, Piper. So far I’ve learnt that if you want to know what’s happening at a school (to kids, parents and teachers) turn up. A lot. Stalk the halls. Walk passed classroom doors and wave at your kid half way through the day. It scares the do-dads out of them and then they’re on a good, better not bugger about because dad might be near, edge. It’s also fun to watch the face freezing shock, but don’t mention that to them because it negates the effort :)

    Cheers!

  12. Jenny Hansen says:

    I love this post on so many amazing levels.

    My favorite line? “Back then, he still wanted to marry me when he grew up, and he thought digging in the back yard was the perfect career.”

    I can HEAR you saying that to me right now. *smiling and wishing I had more free time this week*

  13. [...] Piper Bayard got me thinking about first days of school. [...]

  14. Love this Piper.

    As a teacher, I’m about to have my 18th first day of school. Hard to believe. It’s still filled with excitement and terror, just like every first day when I was on the other side of the classroom. Maybe it’ll be time to quit when that combination of emotions gets out of whack. I hope that doesn’t happen on the second day of school.

    • Piper Bayard says:

      All I can say, Leanne, is that I could never do your job. Very cool that it’s still exciting for you. Wishing you a wonderful year with students and parent that don’t make you want to shove your head in a wood chipper by the second week.

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