Yesterday was the first day of school, that annual ritual that’s as tough on some parents as it is their kids. We began the morning with French toast and Â the flurry of activities we hadn’t done in three months: ironing clothes, packing lunches, Jake doing his CF breathing treatments; Sophie tinkling the keys of the piano; brushing teeth and taking the traditional “first day of school” photo in front of our fireplace. Everything went so smoothly I even had time to water the front bushes. With a short lull before the big walk to school I turned on Sophie’s iPod to play some of the kids’ favorite songs. It didn’t take long until the Ramones’ “My Brain Is Hanging Upside Down (Bonzo Goes to Bitburg)” began and we were all bopping our heads up and down.
For those of you who may think I’m an ultra-hip parent trying to cultivate his children with great protest songs from the ’80s, hold off. This Ramones song, one of our family favorites, is known as the “School of Rock song,” thanks to director Richard Linklater, who used it so expertly in the Jack Black film during the “coming together” montage. If you haven’t seen the film, a) you don’t know what you’re missing, as Sophie will tell you, and b) the aforementioned montage features the school children learning about the history of rock music, being taught how to perform as rock stars, and in Sophie’s favorite scene, the backup singers figuring out dance moves. With a slight smirk on her face, Sophie displayed some of those moves while we all had a good time. It’s one of our favorite songs.
When we left home, Sophie seemed at ease as we walked to school, located just down the street from our house. She quickly slipped right back into the routine of catching up with friends as soon as she hit the courtyard. Although Jake was excited, too, he gripped my hand tightly and had several hugs before getting in line to wait for his teacher. Standing on the sidelines, I watched as his class started toward their new classroom. He broke from the line to run up to me and give me a hug; tears in his eyes, Jacob fought so hard not to cry. “This happened last year, too,” he told me, sounding so disappointed in himself. That’s the worst thing to hear; I don’t want my seven-year-old boy to feel like he’s failed. I escorted him to the class and his teacher let us straggling parents look in and give one last hug. We embraced and I offered some words of encouragement and a kiss on the head. As his teacher introduced herself to her new students and Jacob turned to listen, I snuck out the door.
Minutes later I joined Julie in the school cafeteria, where the PTA was serving free coffee and bagels. My eyes welled up as I gave her the lowdown on how well Jacob did. Both of us were nervous about how he would do; last year he experienced daily separation anxiety. While people gathered for their free eats, I decided it was time to split for work. All day long a glaze of worry hung over my eyes and my nerves were on edge. It wasn’t until Sophie and Jacob called to tell me how great their first days went that I finally settled down.
For weeks I’ve felt relaxed about the first day of school, so much so that I tried to downplay Julie’s apprehension. I guess I was just suppressing my feelings. There are some parents who celebrate their kids returning to the classroom, but I’m always saddened when the middle of August rolls around, more so this year than in the past. In spite of wanting to wrap Sophie and Jacob in my arms and protect them from the nastiness and hard times of childhood, I have to let them grow. That’s the hard part: seeing them mature before my eyes. I sometimes wonder how many more mornings we’ll have of Sophie singing and performing the Ramones for us until she deems that behavior too childish. I’ll surely miss these times if and when she becomes that girl. These past two months have been a wonderful time of baseball, beaches, movie nights, and visits with loved ones. I’ve loved having the kids being home to see me off in the morning and being able to stay up late with them, even if it was just to sit and watch them snuggle with Julie on the bed, reading a book together. The summer is coming to a close.
Frankly, I’m not ready.