Students at Western Washington University and Whatcom Community College started classes this week for the fall quarter. Those who live in the WWU dorms arrived last weekend and moved in creating the usual traffic jam for the neighborhood as a steady stream of cars pulled into the surrounding campus parking lots. I always enjoy seeing the students return. My studio and home are located right off the WWU campus so I often stroll through the campus to take in the first day excitement. First year students usually show up with their parents, their arms loaded with all the belongings and necessities they’ve brought from home for their dorm room. They are all smiles as they pull into the parking lots but by the time they say goodbye, there are usually a few tears as their son or daughter stays behind to begin to their college career.
It brings to mind my own experience of seeing our sons off on their first day of school. And yes, I’ll admit tears sometimes well up in my eyes when I think about those wonderful times. That happened recently when I was sorting through some of my old snapshots to place them in an album. In the one of the negative envelopes were the priceless prints of my oldest son, taken on his very first day of kindergarten at Calahan Elementary School in Los Angeles. He looked so small. I had forgotten about those pictures but when I came across them was grateful that I had started then the tradition of taking a photograph of my sons on their first day of school.
I remember taking his little hand in mind, his other hand clutching his lunch, as we walked through the playground gate towards the open kindergarten door. Other parents and their kids were already inside the classroom, introducing themselves to the attractive, young teacher named Melinda, and helping their kindergartener pick and settle into a place to sit. There was an air of anticipation as the kids looked tentatively around the room at those who were to be their classmates,not only for kindergarten but for another six years. We knew only one little girl who had been in my son’s Mommy and Me class two years earlier.
My son was looking forward to kindergarten. He had already attended two years of pre-school and needed new challenges. But I could tell that he wasn’t quite sure, as I bid him good-bye, if he was up to this. And I wasn’t certain that I was either.
The first time’s always the hardest, I kept telling myself, as I hugged him good-bye and made myself step out the door. I looked back from across the playground to see him sitting inside the classroom at the desk. The teacher was already attempting to take control of the class and make the kids feel welcome. My son looked as if he was paying close attention. How I wished I could have stayed as a tiny observer for just that day.
That was a long day for me as I waited for the hours to pass until I could return to the school and pick him up. When I did, I had my camera with me and caught the kids on film as the teacher’s aide led them together out the door, across the kindergarten playground to the gate where parents, like myself, were patiently lined up to retrieve their kindergartener. It was an odd feeling, knowing that this would be the pattern for the next several years. And one, after that first day that I really didn’t think about as much until it came time for my son to leave for college.
Once again, I was saying good-bye but this time, I wouldn’t be the one to go with him as my husband was driving the loaded truck with my son while I stayed behind with our other two sons. And yes, I was teary-eyed as I hugged him when the last box had been put into the truck and the rear door pulled down and locked into place. I stood there at the end of the walk and sadly watched as they slowly drove away from the house. I have pictures from that day too and am glad I do. Now, as I watch the students and their parents go through this same ritual each fall at the university next door, a smile comes to my face and a tear to my eye. And sometimes, as I did this year, I go home, pull out the photos of my own sons first day at school and remember.