Years Later, First Day Brings Smiles and Tears

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.

Clutching his lunch bag, my son is ready to leave for his first day of school.
Clutching his lunch bag, my son is ready to leave for his first day of school.

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.

Outside Calahan Elementary School on my son's first day of kindergarten. He looked so small.
Outside Calahan Elementary School on my son’s first day of kindergarten.

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.

My son takes a seat at his kindergarten desk and waits for class to start.
My son takes a seat at his kindergarten desk and waits for class to start.

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.

Kindergartners, my son among them, parade out the classroom and across the playground at the end of their first day.
Calahan’s kindergarteners, my son among them, parade out the classroom and across the playground at the end of their first 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.

The truck almost loaded on the day my son left for college.
The truck almost loaded on the day my son left 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.

WIth one last pet to our cat and a hug to me, my son headed off to college.
WIth one last pet to our cat and a hug to me, my son headed off to college.

 

7 thoughts on “Years Later, First Day Brings Smiles and Tears

  1. I, too , well remember the first day of Kindergarten for my own two children but I also remember the first day of school as a Kindergarten teacher. It was not uncommon for both parents and children to peek in the classroom door tentatively and wondering if it was going to be okay. Sometimes I had to gently ask parents to leave and assured them that their child would be safe and hopefully happy.

    This time of year brings back all those memories.

    Julie

    Sent from my iPad

    >

    1. That’s a wonderful perspective from the other side of the desk, so to speak, Julie. Thanks for sharing it with me. I would have been quite comfortable leaving any of my sons in your capable hands.

  2. sensitive as ever. I remembeer taking my lad tim to Univ. San Diego a d a fter a dayn or so of dormitory work, th4e new stuents had to go mto class of some mkoind I> was left alone, went back to the Zholiday Inn alone and cried like an ninfant.

  3. Thinks for the memories~ Don’t we all remember the first day of school and of college. And aren’t we all astonished at how quickly one fades into the other.

    Walt

  4. Cheryl, what a lovely piece, and so relevant for me right now as Ben begins classes at UW next week. This transition has definitley been harder on me than him. He is so excited for this new chapter of his life.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s