This morning, a friend called up the picture on her phone of her granddaughter, posed before the front door, backpack on and book in hand, as she was about to leave for her ‘first day.’ For many of us who live on the West Coast, the first day of school was today.
It can be difficult to go back to class when it’s still so gorgeous outdoors in a place like ours where the summers are so short. Not like many other locations elsewhere in the United States where going into a cooled classroom might provide welcome relief from the heat of the season.
With the start of each school year, I always made, as do many parents, a visual record of the day by snapping a picture of my sons as they headed out the door or were about to enter the school with their lunchboxes and books. In my own experience, I found that the hardest of these notable days was the first day of kindergarten for my oldest son and my youngest son, and the last first day of high school for my youngest son, Tim. When they take that step across the threshold of the school door, you know that life will never be the same for either of you. As a parent, it’s both a proud and poignant moment.
I joined the many moms and dads before me (including my own) to capture a ‘Kodak moment’ of that milestone day. Being the sons of a photographer, even while I was still working as a full-time journalist, my boys knew better than to try to dissuade me from this annual ritual. As elementary students, they were often happy to share in the fun with a picture together with their brothers going out our door, beside the car or in front of the school. That spirit of cooperation grew less enthusiastic as they entered their middle school years. Forget about posing anywhere near the school where friends could see them. All the ‘first day photos’ from those years were taken at home. By the time they reached high school, they were at least resigned to the fact that it was better to humor me than to resist. And I had learned by this time to be satisfied by quickly shooting the annual picture on the fly, like paparazzi stalking their celebrities, just as they were about to head off.
Even that initial day at college did not go undocumented. Although it may not have been the actual first day of classes, I managed to snag a few shots of each of them on campus before my husband and I bid them a tearful but joyful good-by and good luck. To me, that special day was as worth keeping for posterity as was any graduation day. It captures the beginning, not the end of a life event. I think there’s a richness of emotions of that day that you can look back upon later. Uncertainty, excitement, confidence, even a little presumptuousness about the journey on which they are about to embark.
Now that they have all moved on and, for the most part, moved out, I look back fondly on this first day of school as I see other parents taking part in the same yearly ritual. I smiled quietly, thinking of my own sons ‘first days’, preserved on film (digital wasn’t yet around) that now bring back a flood of warm and bittersweet memories.
At the risk of totally embarrassing my youngest son, I thought I’d share some of my personal ‘First Day’ photos for you to enjoy. Maybe you’ll share a few back.