Life marches on and time gets away in ways we swear we won’t allow, and yet, we look behind us and see the calendar laughing away, its guffawing maw made up of ever changing pages turning, months going by whole chunks at a time, suddenly an animated being with a will of its own, one that wants to speed up, move faster and faster until the world around is blurs by as if we’re on a train speeding through a city and only catch glimpses of the scenery as it rushes past, barely leaving an impression.
The school doors opened and we stepped in, unsure and yet not given time to be tentative for the throng of parents and students behind us waiting for their own access. Though not the school of my youth, the smell was familiar, wafting over my nose in a mixture of large amounts of glue, reams of paper, and the anxiety of children milling in the halls. The returning ones greeted friends warmly and showed off new duds. The new kids, Son included, stood silent as sentinels, observing the chaos around us and taking it all in. This was to be their daytime home for the next nine months and they were riveted. The swirl of grade school society flitted over the students and I silently hoped that Mean Kid Syndrome would bypass my son’s class. On the other hand, the little kid who told Son last year in preschool that his breath stank made Son vigilant about brushing his teeth, so maybe a little societal chiding could be a good thing. In small doses. Please let it be very small doses, I thought.
I shook myself and tried not to think of it, tried not to let my own memories translate to misgivings that could unnerve Son as we made our way through the crowded halls to the Kindergarten meeting area. I wanted to snap some pictures but it wasn’t possible with everyone so close together, standing in personal space. Also, I had the wrong lens, not that I was trying to turn Son’s first day of school into a photo shoot. But it was my zoom 200 mm lens, and close ups were not going to happen.
As we herded into the line up area, I found the line for Son’s teacher’s class and led him to the end of it. Here, there was a little room so I took a few photos and stood off to the side as the teachers started to speak. Soon, the kids were standing and filing from the gym, heading to their class. Not sure if I was supposed to, I followed Son through the halls to his classroom, helped him find his desk, snapped a couple more pictures, and then schlepped from the room, the last parent to leave. It’s not that I was reluctant or hanging on too tightly to an era of childhood that ended with the final closing of the classroom door, but I wanted to make sure Son was okay. He seemed to be, though he looked a little shell shocked. At least in his classroom, there were only 25 students. There were small groups, and the room wasn’t nearly as overwhelming as the gym had been.
I headed back to my car, knowing I had about an hour and a half to kill before school was dismissed. It wasn’t until the clunk of the driver’s door as it shut that I let the emotion of the morning wash over me. My eyes, pricking with inevitable tears while I’d walked from the school, brimmed over and let go. I sobbed, heaving gasps with red blotches blooming on my face. Son is a student now. I’m the parent of a Kindergartner. For the next 12, and maybe 16 or more years, there will be school and Son’s true childhood of playing all day with no responsibilities but to listen to his imagination and perhaps eat a good lunch. It was time. His stimulation demands were more than his small daycare could handle and he was becoming a handful. He needed structure, discipline, and a purpose beyond serving his own whims and ego. But there was still a part of me that mourned the loss of the ‘toddler’ identity he’d held for so long. The fat legs and chipmunk cheeks had been gone for a couple years, though in my heart, their ghost remained. Dropping him off for his first day of school forced a goodbye to those last remnants of his baby and toddlerhood, even though the physical attributes those labels decry had disappeared in long and lanky legs, a giant vocabulary, and a thinning of the face. The only baby fat left on him was in my heart. He became a boy to me that day, and while I embraced the change, I mourned the time gone by so fast.
Then, the thought occurred to me that I had time to myself. For five years, I haven’t had much time to myself. What could I do with it? I headed to the library to return some books and realized I could sit and read, and so I did. I enjoyed quite a bit of reading time in that hour and then some, where I didn’t have to stop every couple of sentences to answer a question about Santa Claus, the chemical makeup of Silly Putty, or why some farts smell and some don’t.
For each ending, there is a new beginning.