School Daze

Today was a big day. Jo Jo started first grade, and Teddy started kindergarten. A new house, a new school, a new community.  It’s hard for me to wrap my head around, even though my kids seem totally unfazed by it. Eating breakfast and chattering about school as if they’ve done it forever.

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Walking to the bus stop was huge. There were tons of other elementary school aged kids lined up all up and down the road, standing with their parents patiently.

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When the school bus arrived, I watched as my little guy climbed in, his spider man backpack perched precariously on his shoulders.

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“Is he in kindergarten?” the bus driver asked and when I nodded he boomed, “all kindergarteners sit in the front!” Teddy looked at him like a deer caught in headlights, his eyes wide. I was ready to get all mama bearish and jump onto the bus to rescue him when one of my neighbors yelled at her 4th grade daughter, “help Teddy out.” I watched as my small son was led to his seat, then the yellow doors closed and the bus drove away with my baby inside.

We raced back to our house, put Jo Jo on her bus and then Geoffrey and I were off, driving away to North Stratfield. We’d been told that the first day of school was a BIG DEAL. All the parents show up to take pictures of their kids coming off the bus, held back by orange cones and school administrators while frantically snapping photos of their little darlings like crazed paparazzi.

We had to park a half mile away from the school. By the time we made it there, and through the crowd, Jo Jo, as befitting a cosseted celebrity, had already been whisked inside. It was unclear about Teddy. He’d left before Jo Jo, and as I watched the buses pull up and unload their small, shrieking cargo, I had a sinking feeling that I was too late.

But when the last bus pulled up and I saw the number eight, I realized I hadn’t missed the boat (er, bus).

“Teddy! Teddy!” I screamed like a groupie, jumping up and down.

And there he was, peering out the side of the bus door, an uncertain smile on his face. I couldn’t tell if it was a I’m-so-happy-to-be-here-smile or Oh-my-god-these-people-are-friggin-nuts-what-am-I-doing-here-grin.

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But when he saw me, his face broke out in a huge beam and I knew he was loving every minute of it.

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I watched as the principal and one of his kindergarten teachers leaned down to talk to him.

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He listened intensely before obediently following the other children through the crowd of teachers into the school.

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Then he was gone, leaving me bawling intensely behind my sunglasses.

“First day of kindergarten?” one of the other moms asked sympathetically.

“Yeah,” I croaked.

“He’ll do great,” she said reassuringly. “This school is awesome.”

It’s hard not to worry, though. We’d had a whole tour of the school yesterday. Both kids met their teachers and saw their classrooms, and we met all of Jo Jo’s therapists and her new aide. But while I knew Jo Jo would be getting the red carpet treatment and a lot of attention, I wasn’t sure about Teddy. Kindergarten’s a big place, and he might just get lost in the shuffle.

When the bus pulled up to our stop this afternoon, all the neighborhood kids piled out except for Teddy. This was sort of alarming. “Where’s my son?” I asked the bus driver, who motioned me on. “Teddy!” I hollered in my panicked voice before I saw him, sitting in his seat twisted around talking to the kids across the aisle from him in earnest conversation.

“The kindergarteners don’t always know when to get off,” the bus driver said helpfully.

I watched him for a moment and suddenly had a mental picture of him in ten years, a sophomore on the school bus so busy flirting he forgot to get off at his stop. Then he turned and spotted me. “Mommy!” he said, looking surprised. I wondered if I’d embarrassed him, showing up on the bus like this, but he grinned and raced towards me, grabbing my hand.

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“Where’s your backpack?” I asked.

“Oh yeah,” he said sheepishly and ran back to get it.

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We walked across the street and back to our house, hand in hand. “How was your first day?” I asked him.

He looked at me solemnly. “It was good.”

“What did you do today?” I asked.

“I played outside, on the playground,” he said proudly. “And I ate mozzarella sticks, for lunch.” And then he was off, telling me in a rush about his day. He’d looked for Jo Jo on the playground, but he didn’t see her, so they must not go outside at the same time. He’d drawn a picture. He’d met a lot of kids, but he couldn’t remember all their names.

I’m guessing in about seven years, he’s going to want nothing to do with me when he gets off of the bus, when the sight of me jumping up and down like a crazed hyena snapping pictures will send him shrieking straight into therapy.

For now, he’s still my little boy with the spider man backpack and light up sneakers who insists on holding my hand, even in public.

Such is life.

Hello, kindergarten.