Today Charlotte has her kindergarten orientation. Tomorrow is her first full day of school. I am filled with nervous excitement for her. I am not one of those parents who feels sad at the thought of their child entering this next stage of life. Maybe that will change when I drop her off tomorrow, but I doubt it. I loved school. As a kid, I looked forward to the first day of school all summer long. I loved finding out who my teacher was and the scent of the classroom that was freshly cleaned and decorated. I loved getting my school supplies and bright new clothes for the fall. I loved getting my textbooks and I would excitedly read ahead to see what I would be learning in the coming weeks and months.
My first day of kindergarten was certainly a memorable one. My school was not within walking distance of our house, and so I had to take the school bus there every day. On the first day, my mom walked me to the bus stop and watched me get on the bus, and then I was on my own. (Now, I know it seems hard to imagine not accompanying your child to the school on the first day of kindergarten, but that’s just how it was back in the eighties. My mom had to stay home with my younger sister, and we only had one car, which my dad needed for work. The school bus would take me right to the school, so I’m sure it seemed like a reasonable enough decision to just see me onto the bus.) When the bus got to the school, all the other kids seemed to be headed into the gym, so I just followed them. Everyone sat down, and the principal began to call out names and the kids were organized into their classes. As more and more names were called, it became obvious that I was not where I was supposed to be. The principal noticed me sitting there, and stopped the proceedings to ask me who I was. With all the teachers, and all the kids in the school staring at me, I was far too terrified to answer, so I just sat there, silent and paralyzed. Someone called out, “She must be in kindergarten!” One of the teachers took me by the hand and led me out of the gym to the kindergarten room, which is where I should have gone when I got off the bus. She had a whispered conversation with Mrs. Langel, my kindergarten teacher, and they figured out my identity. Mrs. Langel welcomed me into the class, and brought me over to the circle of my fellow kindergartners, where my very own spot with my name on it was waiting for me.
The only aspect of school that I didn’t love, and that makes me a bit nervous for Charlotte, is the social aspect of it. I was always a quiet and shy girl, and it was hard for me to make and keep friends. And as I got older, this tendency toward shyness became mixed with very low self esteem, and so I struggled even more to find my place among my peers. I was often lonely at school, and this is the only part of my school-related memories that I look back on with sadness.
Charlotte doesn’t seem to have any of that social shyness yet with her peers. She always approaches kids on the playground to see if they want to play with her. She will even run up to kids twice her age and ask, with no reservation, what they are playing and if she could join in. It makes me really proud of her, and lessens my worry that she will possess the same social awkwardness that I did. I know I will do everything I can to cultivate both a love of learning and a healthy social life for her.
The first day of kindergarten means we are standing on the brink of the path she will take in life. She is going to experience joy and heartbreak and celebrate success and mourn failures along this path. And I know, as her mom, I will experience these right along with her. Her joys will lift me up and her sorrows will hurt me as much (or more) as they hurt her. But Charlotte is a smart, funny, independent, curious girl, and she is ready for these challenges. And so am I.