Tuesday, September 08, 2009


I’ve been thinking this morning of the young moms and dads who are sending their children off to kindergarten for the first time. A big orange school bus just drove past my front window, and I couldn’t help but think of my son’s first day of kindergarten, way back in 1981. Was it really that long ago?

Tom and I are gung-ho educators. We believe in school. We take it seriously. So when our son was ready to start kindergarten in 1981, it was a huge, big deal. We had made the pre-requisite kindergarten roundup visit in the spring and the open house visit a week before school started to meet his teacher and see his classroom. Ryan knew his alphabet, his numbers, his colors, the pledge of allegiance, twenty seven nursery rhymes, his address, his telephone number, and the names of emergency contacts. He had even taught himself to read. Clear conscience: we had done everything we could think of to pave the way to kindergarten success.

We were all set.

One of the things he was most looking forward to on his first day of school was getting on the school bus with his best buddy Danny from across the street and riding the bus to school. We had rehearsed it a thousand times. Stand here, don’t take off your backpack or you’ll forget it, don’t step off the curb, wait until the bus stops and opens its doors, find a seat and sit down right away. . .

The bus was scheduled to stop at the corner right by our house at 7:25 a.m. and would easily get him to school in plenty of time for the first bell to ring at 8:00 a.m. Easy as pie.

At 7:15 a.m., the boys went to stand by the bus stop: very grown up, five-year-old Ryan and his friend Danny from across the street.

Danny’s mother watched from her window and I watched from mine. At the time, my daughters were ages 22 months and 4 months, so to avoid a three-ring circus at the bus stop (a distracted mother, two babies under the age of 2, and the two antsy little kindergartners waiting for the bus), I opted for the ‘watch-out-the-window’ form of supervision. Remember, this was 1981 and bus stop abductions weren’t invented yet.

7:15 a.m. came and went. 7:20 a.m. 7:30 a.m. No bus. 7:40 a.m. No bus.

I started panicking, trying to figure out Plan B (which had been nonexistent until this point). School began in 20 minutes, and the boys still stood out by the corner. They had started slugging each other with their book bags just to pass the time.

Plan B kicked in: both girls were still in their pajamas. I began to throw clothes on them—a sundress with a little strappy tie around the neck for Shannon. Skip dressing the baby—babies wore pajamas all the time anyway, right? Who would know the difference?

I could see Danny’s mother backing her car out of the garage. I called to Ryan as I started putting the girls into the car. He reluctantly dragged his feet all the way to the car, still hoping that he’d get his bus ride to school. I threw everybody in the car. (This was 1981, remember, when parents just threw their kids in the car because there were no laws about car seats and seat belts and other types of safety devices. My children, according to child endangerment laws, should never have survived to adulthood.)

Halfway to school, I made sure the kids were all right. Baby J9 was still safely wedged into the glove compartment or some other safe place—I don’t recall exactly. I glanced in my rearview mirror to check the kids in the backseat and noticed that Shannon’s little sundress was down around her waist. The strappy tie around her neck had broken, and that was all that had been holding it up. She looked unperturbed as she flashed her naked torso at the passing traffic. Ryan’s little face, which should have been wreathed in first-day-of-school smiles, had little worry lines between his eyes. Just great—my five-year-old would spend his first day of school developing his first crow’s feet.

I did a right turn on two squealing wheels around the corner onto Irving Street and skidded to a halt about a half a block from the school. That was when I noticed that I was wearing a pair of stained jeans and a size XL sweatshirt with baby spit up on the front. I may have been barefoot. I don’t recall. The clock in the car said 7:55 a.m.

“C’mon!” I shouted to Ryan, grabbing my entourage. We nearly knocked over the school crossing guards with their little yellow flags as I barreled across the street to the school’s front door. The classroom was upstairs, and we took the stairs two at a time.

Notice the smiling, happy children dressed in clean clothing. This picture of our kids was DEFINITELY not taken on our son’s first day of kindergarten.

As we screeched to a stop by the classroom doorway, I noticed another set of parents carefully acclimating their daughter to her new environment. Both the mother and father were neatly dressed in professional business suits. “See, Becky,” they said soothingly, their arms protectively around her shoulders, “you’ll sit at these little tables to do your work. And if you need help, Mrs. Maack will help you.” Becky looked dubious, but her parents’ reassuring faces remained calm and smiling.

I looked up at the clock on the wall: 7:59 a.m. I shoved my son into the classroom. I wish I could quote here the calming words I said to him, words that he could repeat someday as the inspiration that caused him to excel in his education and strive for his goals. Unfortunately, I believe I muttered something inspirational like, “Gotta go. Don’t swear in school.”

When I got home, I called the bus company lady who apologized for the route confusion and assured me that the bus would stop on our corner the next morning at promptly 7:15 a.m. I admit I may have alarmed her just a little as I related my story, probably using the first-day-of-kindergarten-mother-tearful hysterics that I hadn’t had time to express earlier. By the time I got done, I seem to remember that she volunteered to drive the bus herself the next day if I would just hang up the phone.

I still wonder about Becky, the kindergartner whose parents were giving her such a professional, loving send-off to kindergarten. Did her school years go more smoothly because of that fine start?

But my kid is a survivor, right? Even with the worst kindergarten send off in the history of kindergarten send offs, he overcame his humble beginnings and went on to excel in school and in life. Just goes to show you, the wheels on the bus DO go round and round, despite the failings of amateur mothers.


bd said...

Thanks for the smiles... good intentions and a bit of luck and all is well:-)

2to4aday said...

Thank heaven for good intentions! Without them, my kids would all be dead or in jail! As for luck, I had more than my share . . . and I needed every bit of it.

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