My first day of school was not really my first day of school. That may sound like some sort of Zen riddle, but modern day parents will understand. There was a time when kids started school at five; going to kindergarten, and that was that. These days, there's day care, preschool, private school, and public school. Which one counts as the true first day?
Take your pick!
For me, a child of the 60's, there weren't many preschools around, and they weren't really what you would call school, it was more care. At that time, more mothers were moving into the workforce, and so childcare was moving to the forefront. In my case, my mother was starting her sewing business, and she saw that I was - not to be boastful here - pretty sharp, and needed some mental stimulation. She "enrolled" me in the Bartlett School down the street, and I went there a couple hours a day.
Now, these days, a preschool truly is a school; they teach the kids their ABC's, their colors, and so on. Some go quite a bit further, but that's not for me to comment on. At Bartlett's, their "curriculum" consisted of things like:
Learning to stand in line;
Learning to wash my hands;
Learning to clean up my messes after finger painting,
And so on. I must have done well, I got a Gold Star on all those things (I still have my "Report Card" from the school). May not sound like much, but to a four-year-old, it was a big deal.
Then there was "graduation." Now, here again, these days we make a big deal of such things; we have a ceremony, the kids have their little cap and gowns, and sometimes even a certificate. We didn't do that, we just had a little party on the last day of "school."
Then, come the fall of '68, it was time for my official first day of school at the Parmenter Elementary School. I was now going to start in kindergarten. As I was a "big" boy, I had no need of my mother walking me down there. No, no, that just could not happen, it would be a total disgrace - even at that age. Fortunately, the walk was short, and well marked. At the intersection of Jason and Gray was the police officer. She'd stop the traffic and signal us to cross. There was the dear old woman who walked her Bassett hound every morning. I think his name was "The Colonel" or "The General"; she also kept an eye on us kids.
At the next intersection were the crossing guards; I think they're called the "Safety Patrol" these days. They were "old" kids - fifth or sixth graders - with bright orange belts, and they'd tell you when it was safe to cross.
Finally, there was the school, and its huge play area. We didn't have any swings or anything, but the kids never seemed to need them - we made up our own games. As I approached it, the area was like a great ocean of kids; it seemed to have "waves" and "currents," as the kids moved and shifted across the asphalt pavement.
Walking down the hill - lost amongst all of the big kids passing me - I suddenly felt especially small. Gee, could I really handle all of this? I felt a real desire just then to have my mommy by my side. When I got to the main gate, I just stood there, unsure of what to do. One of the older kids - a friend of the family - came to my aid. He led me further down the hill and around a corner of the building. There was a sidewalk leading off around that corner, and he had me stand there.
He said, "When the bell rings, go down this path."
Then he left!
I felt very small, very alone, and that path seemed to lead... to nowhere. It looked scary. I just couldn't believe that it was the right way to go. Instead, I went back to the main playground, and just sort of hid myself off in a corner, not an easy task. When the bell rang, the kids formed themselves up into lines, and then the teachers came out and led them inside. I just hung back and sort of milled about with them, until I got inside.
It was a big, big - big - place! I had no idea what to do, but I was in luck, the teachers knew. One look at me, and they could tell. I imagine they had to deal with plenty of lost kindergartens on "First Day." So, one of them led me down the huge staircase to Mrs. Watson's room. Just as I walked in the door, she was coming in the outer door with the kids.
It turned out; just around the corner of the building from where I stood was a small area where the kindergartens congregated prior to school. It was their little spot. It was a safe and secure area. The teachers could watch them - from the windows. In that place, they were safe from the bigger kids. The big kids liked to bully the little ones. I'd learned my lesson - tomorrow I'd go to the right place.
Overall, quite the exciting day, and it had only just begun!
Combining the gimlet-eye, of Philip Roth, with the precisive mind of Lionel Trilling, AJ Robinson writes about what goes bump in the mind, of 21st century adults. Raised in Boston, with summers on Martha's Vineyard, AJ now lives in Florida. Most of the time he writes, but sometimes he works at Disney World to renew his fantasies and get a few dollars more. AJ writes, with insight and passion, about his family and his dog. His liberal, note the small "l," sensibilities often lead to bouts of righteous indignation, well focused and true.
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