Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Last First Day

Dear Little Girl I Used to Know,

You just started your first day of fifth grade. I know that in six hours this peace enveloping me at home for the first time in two months will again be pervaded by the forced studio laughter of the Disney Channel or the bubblegum reverberating from your boombox, but it will be different even though they are the same sounds we shared together all summer.

Today is your last first day of elementary school. You’ll have many more first days, academically speaking. There’s middle school and high school, definitely. Maybe a first day of college if I can ever convince you that reading is, while boring from the prospective of a 10-year-old fueled by the swooning pleas of Justin Beiber, still pretty essential to getting somewhere beyond definitively average.

But this was the last first day that I will ever walk you through those doors and into that alternative reality of homeroom.

The last one at which I’d personally hand your teacher a note about why your need sunscreen and a hat when outdoors while trying to quickly explain what sets you apart from all the other kids medically but pretty much not in any other detectable way.

The last one where you’d really be a little girl in more than just my memories. You and I and Mom all know this.

Middle school, sweetie, it changes a kid. Girls, especially. The meanest classmates I ever had were in middle school and most of them were girls. They say girls mature faster; I say they grow up too soon for their own good. We boys, we like to stay boys well past our due date. That, you’ll learn, can be a good thing. Within reason.

I wish I had a photo from your first day of preschool after we moved here. You were so excited to be with kids your own age again after two years of hanging around with nannies and nurses and doctors. You were only supposed to be in preschool for half a day, to get you acclimated to your new surroundings, but when I came to pick you up, you asked if you really had to leave all your new best friends in your whole wide 5-year-old world. So you stayed. Your brother, he cried when he saw me a few minutes later and pleaded to come home for lunch and a comforting heap of Nick Jr.


It’s been so long since I’ve seen you all pudgy faced and stuffed with the wonder you readily ate out of the everydayness of life. Remember that Disney Princess backpack from kindergarten? You transported a zillion paintings and drawings and scribblings home with you in that pink and purple nylon time capsule. You said you wanted to be an art teacher. I said even art teachers need to learn to read. You shrugged and Crayola-ed on.


This moment from the first day of first grade might have be the happiest you had all year. Through some quirk, not one of your 20-odd kindergarten classmates ended up in your new class. A bully refused daily to let you play “Family,” telling you you couldn’t even be the family’s dog. In class, several other kids always required too much of the teachers’ attention. You suffered for it. We laid on your bed one night way too late into the school year and you cried – one of the only half dozen times you ever cried from something other than physical pain. You hated school. Hated those kids. You didn’t fit in and you didn’t know why. I wish I had a better answer for you then. Or now.

first-day-school-2007 Your brother joined you the next year. It was a battle of bad haircuts. His too short, yours all kinky because you wanted to sleep in tight braids so you could look all frilly for your debut in second grade. With a little extra help from teachers this year and some friendly faces in the desks next to yours, this was when things started to click for you.

And that bully? When you saw him on the playground, you put him in his place by chasing him around under the threat of being kissed. I laughed when you told me this then, but sweet thing, this was the first time you struck fear in my heart for the teen years ahead.

But note the crossed arms in the photo. The rebellion had begun.first-day-school-2008In third grade, you became the teachers’ pet. It made you confident. Maybe a bit too confident.


By the next year, while your brother still needed to physically push Mom and me out of his second-grade classroom to make him feel empowered about the whole going-to-school thing, you wanted us out of sight as soon as possible. You stopped kissing me goodbye when I’d drop you off at the side door in the morning this year. Some days, I couldn’t even get you to kiss our dog goodbye.

I knew it would happen. I knew it would hurt. I understand it, though, and I’m over it. That doesn’t mean I still can’t miss the way it used to be.


And here we are. We had to bargain with you for this last photo. Mom promised not to talk to anyone once inside the school and I promised not to cross the homeroom threshold.

We have officially become the enemy that loves you from a distance so your friends won’t see and that loves you quietly so the world won’t hear.

Loathe us publicly as you must, remember we are still your parents and we are always there for you, our sweet little Pumpkin Head: then, now and forever.



  1. Those are some wonderful photos and memories. My oldest turns 21 this month. I can still picture her walking into preschool with her Pocahantas bookbag. Sigh.

  2. Thanks for making me cry on a Thursday morning dude. Thanks a bunch.


  3. offfttt!! all teary eyed and oh my goodness she is turning into such a young lady. my girl is seven now. it's beyond belief how they change. she is smart, uses subtle humor and really, really like taylor swift.
    my three year old boy is crazy and i swear to god, never sits still. so much of our lives revolve around them. it's so sweet, so wonderful. almost too much for the human spirit to bear. ;)


    ok, i need a hanky!

  4. (sniff) (sniff) Sigh.....

  5. Dude, I just took my to Pre-K a couple weeks ago.. I have to expect this now? Why do pictures make them grow up so fast.

  6. "We have officially become the enemy that loves you from a distance so your friends won’t see and that loves you quietly so the world won’t hear."

    Great line! My 4 year old starts school next year, and like you I plan to take a picture of every first day of school. I want to take them in the same spot and try the same pose so over the years we can see her grow.

  7. No fair ruining my eye makeup before 10 am.

    Also, this is some of your finest work.

  8. what a sweet post! *wipes a tear from my eyes* She is beautiful!

  9. Oh, man. If this is how I'm going to feel next year, I'm not sure I'll be able to handle it.

    P.S. Battle of the bad haircuts. Heh.

  10. Loved the post .So well written it is beautiful

  11. Just... awesome.

    (She's lovely! And he's handsome!)
    I'm too verklempt.

  12. Nice photo recap. My daughter is a year behind yours and I'm already fearing the horror of middle school girls. Boys can still be boys past 40, right?

  13. I literally said "awwww" when I finished reading this. And I must've gotten some sand in my eyes. Very lovely. Also, it's not the middle school that changes kids, it's the puberty. Their brains completely meltdown and they go crazy and it takes until their early 20's for things to physiologically straighten out in there. So, there you go.

  14. You're a good man!

    I forgot to send my kids to school on their first day! Seriously.

  15. I'm glad I found your blog!! Keep up the great work!!!

    Common Cents

    ps. Link Exchange??

  16. I was just saying this week to someone that I was glad I don't have a daughter now that our house has entered The Middle School Years. The memories of being a middle school girl haunt me still. There's some evil that lurks in those hallways! All that said, though, you've got a beauty on your hands there, pally. This was almost as beautiful as she is.

  17. She looks so, uh, grown up for her age. She looks older than my Lainy! - ok, hubby says no - your daughter definitely looks 12 while our 18 year old looks 14. Well, regardless of all the exercises and medication she looks like a wonderfully healthy young lady that has been wonderfully taken care of through the years. You must be so proud!

  18. You can let go of my heart now.

    A beautiful tribute to your daughter, who, I'm sure, will one day tell you how lucky she is that you are her dad.


  19. Tried to read this yesterday but the tears started at 1st grade. I pulled it together to come back. I made it through but just barely.

    Holes in my heart from your writing and that last photo of all-grown-upness.

  20. Phoebe is seven now and it's surreal sometimes, the things that come out of her mouth. It's like, there is a real person in there.

  21. Visiting from VM's....

    Wonderful post, you have me missing those years from my own daughter's life. And this fall, her little one started pre-school, so it all begins again.

  22. They grow too fast don't they??? Just a little TOO fast... :(


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