The first day of school is full of joyous rituals and anxieties — for parents, of course.
My son, Aaron, cried his eyes out on the first day of kindergarten.
Not because he had separation anxiety from his loving (read: neurotic) caring (sometimes a wee bit crazy) and devoted (occasionally overprotective) parents. Aaron’s tears flowed because his parents (my wife Elyse and I) wouldn’t let him ride the bus the first day. He’d seen the older, bigger kids in the neighborhood climb onto the big yellow school bus for years. And he craved to be part of that club – the free from Mommy and Daddy club.
But Elyse and I dropped him off at Willis Elementary School in East Manatee County on Day One — this was a milestone day. We had to be there in person. After a quick drop off, we hit the cafeteria for the Boo Hoo Breakfast – this odd gathering of deer-in-the-headlight looking parents, sipping coffee and comforting each other. Thousands of parents in Sarasota and east Manatee County will be soon be doing something similar for the school year — first-day drop for their kids.
Our first day drop offs have followed a somewhat predictable arc. From boo hoo to too cool for school. On the latter, by sixth-grade, we were lucky to get a side hug from Aaron, especially if in eyeshot of other humans. Oh the horror. Parents with older kids nod knowingly when I tell them this.
But back in kindergarten, there wasn’t only Day One, but the next day. Young Aaron’s first bus ride. Elyse worried whether he would make friends. Will he remember to bring his insulated Angry Birds lunchbox into school?
I had my own anxieties. Will some fifth-grader bully him? Will some big kid mess with our little, innocent child? I confided in Elyse, in our own boo-hoo outside the entrance to our community, as Daryl, our son’s bus driver, escorted him away that morning. (Our bus driver’s name, true story, for all six years our son attended Willis? Daryl Hall. Talk about a goldmine of dad jokes.)
Another true story: Elyse and I decided, given our anxieties, the best choice we had was obvious: I must follow the bus, and Daryl, to school. You know, make sure, Aaron got off the bus OK, with his lunch box — and without a black eye. Like any normal parent would do.
So I double-timed it back to the house. I hopped into the Honda Accord. (I swear, I turned the car on, and Born to Run was on the XM Radio. Or maybe it was Private Eyes) I caught up to the bus. (I’m from New York – it wasn’t that hard.) The bus weaved around some neighborhoods, made some stops. Then it hit University Parkway — a straight shot to Willis.
The moment of truth. I parked. (Turned out I parked on the edge of the bus loop, half on the grass on the wrong side; I hadn’t yet read the parking line email, sorry former principal Mr. Stenger.) I ran to a pole and staked out a position, phone in hand to document the scene. Yes, I stood behind a pole so no one could see me, or at least see less of me. Probably a good time to mention I had taken the day (was it the whole week?) off. So I was in a T-shirt, shorts and my New York Mets hat. Not work attire.
And there came Aaron off the bus. Lunch box in both hands. Backpack strapped to his tiny shoulders. Determined look on his face, maybe a little bit uneasy — but mostly, an “I got this” vibe. He had done it. No bullying. No problems. Kindergarten was his for the taking.
Luckily, no one noticed me, far as I know, behind the pole. Otherwise it would have made for a somewhat interesting conversation with a sheriff’s deputy.
As Aaron prepares for eighth grade — say it isn’t so — my wife and I are prepared for another First Day. His last first day of middle school. I’m thinking maybe I will get a fist-bump, maybe a head-nod, as he walks toward the bus.
I have no plans to follow the bus.
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