RunningHammer started kindergarten today. He has been anxious and nervous about this day for weeks -- so much so that he hasn't slept too well for the past few days. Not that we haven't tried to make the transition easy. His teacher has visited us at the house and talked to him about kindergarten (she did that with her whole class), and we've visited his classroom so he knows where everything is. Vix and I and the boys have told him what a great time he's going to have.
Last night, just before bedtime with Hammer scrubbed and fresh in his dinosaur t-shirt and Hulk boxers, I walked past his room where he and SweetFaceBoy were building Legos.
"... and you have a really nice sleepmat for naps," SFB said. "But if you don't want to nap, you don't have to. You can just rest."
"OK, that's good." The search clicking and build snapping of Legos.
"And you get two snack times and at the end of the day you might get story time."
"My classroom is the closest to the playground."
"See? Another good thing. Hey, let's pretend I'm that kid Cameron you met when we went to see your classroom, OK?"
"Hi, Hammer! Do you remember me?"
"Yes, you are Cameron." Click-click, snap-snap.
"Do you want to play something?"
"What do you want to play?"
"How about blocks?"
"That's great. I like building blocks.... See, Hammer? It's just like that. It's easy."
Then Vix needed me for something, and I abandoned my eavesdropping.
Despite the assurances and preparations, this morning did not unfold without some drama
. After breakfast
and brushing teeth and getting dressed, I took First Day of School pictures. We made sure he had everything in his backpack
and pencil case). After a hug
from TinyGranny and high-five
s from the boys, Vix and I drove him to school
We parked a couple of blocks away to avoid the traffic madness. He walked between us holding our hands, my youngest son starting a new chapter of his life. "I just hope they don't ruin him," Vix had told me earlier that morning.
Everything seemed OK with him until we got in to the kindergarten line. Kids and parents and teachers -- unfamiliar faces all -- jostled and crowded under a covered walkway at the front of the school, the voices clanging off the metal roof and brick wall. The waterworks began. "I don't want to go this day! I want to go next day!"
I wanted to pick him up and run to the car, whispering that everything will be alright, kissing away his tears and telling him we'll go home and have a second breakfast and count the bees in the basil garden and count the lizards on the playset, then go for a walk around the neighborhood searching for treasures in a flying pirate ship of our imaginations and when we dock we'll water the orchids in the backyard and do cannonballs in the pool and play Daddy Whale-Baby Whale and then dry off in the sun and have a lunch of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and string cheese and grapes while watching Tom and Jerry and then remember too late that it's time to get the boys from school and we'll get Slurpees on the way home. This is what I wanted to whisper in his ear as I ran with him to the car because I'm not ready for him to leave and have his innocence shaved away, his wild joy squashed.
Instead, Vix took him by the hand and pulled him out of line to talk him down. I saved our place in line. It let me take a few deep breaths and stem my own tears.
They returned. Hammer was teary-faced. I smiled at him and gave a quick squeeze to his hand in mine. The line started moving and Vix said, "Show me where your classroom is."
Hold it together, hold it together.
His teacher met us at the classroom. He sniffled and blinked huge drops. She knelt to give him a hug. "Oh, I think you and I might shed some tears together today, buddy," she said.
Hold it together.
As we walked him to his table, he cried again. "But I want to go next day!"
We hugged him and told him not to cry, that he had many things to tell us about later, that he would make new friends, that he would play on a new playground and that he would learn wonderful things. He still cried and held on to me tightly.
Hold it together.
And then we left.
Vix left first. I walked slowly, not wanting to go, not wanting to let go. I'd mentioned to Vix that if he had to go to school, at least I should be able to stick around in the classroom or in the hallway just to make sure he's OK and that everything goes well. "Oh, sure," she said, "and I'm positive he'll be happy when you are hauled away."
I waved and smiled at his tear-streaked face and said "Have a great day, buddy" and walked out the door.
Hold it together.
Vix waited for me in the hall. "Do you want some coffee and a bagel? The cafeteria is set up for the kindergarten parents."
"No. Let's get out of here."
"You are so antisocial."
"True, but we have to get home before the big boys leave for their first day." The hidden and more profound truth is that I just wanted to get out of there.
We drove home in silence. NPR informed us about the 40 people the Israeli bombs had killed in Lebannon. "Don't tell the boys he cried," she said. "And don't tell my mom, either."
We came home and saw the boys -- old soldiers, each one -- off to school, picked up by their carpool. Then Vix took off for an appointment. The house empty, I poured a cup of coffee. I saw a plastic bag that Hammer's teacher had given Vix lying on the kitchen counter. In it was a cotton ball, a tissue and a bag of tea. Apparently she had given one to a parent of each child. A note inside the bag read:
Thank you for entrusting your child to me. I promise to do my best everyday to be your child's companion in learning. After you have wiped your tears, make yourself a nice warm cup of tea. Put your feet up and relax. Then hold the cotton ball in your hand. The softness will help you recall the gentle spirit of your child. I will work alongside you this year to help your child grow!
Maybe, I thought to myself, he'll be OK.
And then I cried.