WORKING DAD’S JOURNAL — First Day of School

LETTER TO MY SON ON HIS FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL:

August 8, 1994

Today was your first day of kindergarten. This morning, at breakfast, you seemed a little tentative, so I volunteered to walk you to school. Your mom laid out your new school clothes on your bed, and now you proudly put on your Power Rangers T-shirt, along with a pair of shorts and your black, high-top Chuck Taylor All-Star Converse basketball shoes. You looked in the mirror and admired the kid staring back. You were decked out and looking good.

I packed your lunch, grabbed your Phoenix Suns backpack, pinned on your name tag, put a red apple badge around your neck (signifying that you go to Mrs. Sullivan’s extended-day enrichment class after your morning class ends) and off to school we went.

We had a nice conversation as we walked. When we reached the campus we saw your sister with her friends Rhianna and Christina, and we waved. I told you that we were still a little early and there was time to play on the playground. You were excited. We passed two boys who seemed to be about your age.

“Hi guys!” I said, wanting to help you make new friends. “What grade are you in?”

“First,” said the little one, without much interest.

“He’s going into Kindergarten,” I said, pointing at you.

You smiled and kicked some dirt.

“Kindergarten is for babies!” bellowed the big one, and off he ran, with his little sidekick right behind. You looked crestfallen.

I glanced around for something to divert your attention and take your mind off of this bitter rejection.

“Hey, pal,” I said. “Look at those kids playing on the baseball field — I’ll race you around the bases!”

The playground had been irrigated over the weekend and was still wet, although the baseball field was on higher ground and seemed to be mostly dry. A few older kids milled around, waiting for class to start. You and I positioned ourselves at home plate.

“On your mark . . . Get set . . . GO!”

And we were off. We reached first base with you a step ahead, racing at full-throttle. We turned and sped toward second base, neck-and-neck. Just before we reached it, I looked down, and there, where the base would normally be, was a large, round patch of what at any other time would have been dirt. Today, however, it was mud. Deep,wet, squishy, slimy mud. My eyes darted to you, hoping that you would take a wide turn and avoid the quagmire. But you leaned into the turn at high speed, rounding second with one long stride. As your left foot hit the ground, it began to drift and, for one brief moment, you were skating. Then, as your right foot came down, your left foot flew out from under you — and you landed, with a splat, in the watery, brown goop.

For a few seconds you lay there, unhurt, but wondering what the heck you were going to do now. I stood over you, wondering the same thing. Slowly, you pulled yourself to a sitting position, and then stood up. Your entire left side; shoes, socks, leg, shorts, shirt, arm and hand, were caked with a thick coat of dripping, wet mud. You examined your new clothes, which your mother had so carefully picked out. Then you looked up and, as your eyes met mine, we both burst out into raucous laughter.  The big kids who were standing around us laughed, too, but they were laughing with us, as compassionate friends.

I took your hand and walked you toward your class. You sloshed along beside me, giggling too hard to be embarrassed. I told you that I’d go home and bring you back a fresh, dry set of clothing. When we reached the sidewalk, the class was lining up. Your classmates looked at you, wide-eyed. Your teacher, Mrs. Filson, bent down and patted you on the head, trying unsuccessfully to hide her amusement. “What a way to start the day,” she chuckled. Mrs. Teagarden, the school principal, walked up and put her hand on your shoulder. Laughing sympathetically, she said:

“You’re all boy.”