It was a scene being played out around the country, possibly the world, summer ended and the first day of school was starting. For those of us who have grade school children we were prepping backpacks that often were half the size of the child carrying them, with cartoon figures and action figures and girly girl glitter, full of folders, new pencils, crayons, and other school supplies. As the bus pulled up, or as you left your child at the door of the school, smiles and cameras flashed, wishes that said "you'll have fun...be great...love it" in every language were being said by parents that were tall, short, fat, skinny, older, younger, suburban, urban and everything else. Yet as soon as the buses pulled away, the child was gone from sight swallowed behind the doors of the school the smiles of most of these parents waned, the drooped and often turned into the bittersweet tears that said "my baby is growing up so fast". I was one of these, surrounded at our daycare by parents who were ready with a tissue and who a few minutes before were sharing laughter with stories of summer fun.
I remember my first days of school -- not all but the ones that seem to be the beginning of something new. The first day of first grade with my great-aunt, hair in ponytails with giant Eastern European white bows (you know the look if you ever saw any pictures from that Soviet era), blue and white checked dress with a blue apron on top (no idea why but this was the look for grade school...I never got to it but all around the Iron Curtain this uniform was worn and morphed into white shirts with navy blue skirts and the requisite red kerchief of young Pioneers - a Communist school club you had to join). I had a brown leather backpack (filled with notebooks, a blotter, fountain pen and ink pot-- no I am not THAT old but even in the late 70s Romanian schools started you writing with a fountain pen and you learned how to use that blotter pretty quickly 'cause little hands press on those fountain pens often with school work looking more like a Rosarch blot than anything else). This is probably why the idea that script will not be taught so still annoys the crap out of me. I missed my parents being there (my Mother still cries about missing it) but pretty soon made a friend of my desk mate, then others and pretty soon I was loving it.
I remember my first day in the US school, my language limited to "Hello my name is Juliana", my Mother walking me to school, me waving goodbye while she cried outside the small window in the brown wood door, sitting with kids who stared at me, Mrs Schilkraut with her short black and grey hair and blue eyes - skinny and loving, and kids who very quickly thought nothing of the fact that I did not speak English - this was Astoria after all many of them had not spoken English at first, or their families barely spoke it. I learned to not raise my hand Romanian style (hand lifted at elbow on desk, pointer and middle finger held together like a shy peace sign) and to wave my hand in the air frantically to get the teacher's attention. I went to the blackboard and answered a question (telling my Mother when she picked me up - to which she inquired in what language) after all I had just skipped a grade based on a test they gave me and I knew this math..this I had done. Learning not to cross my 7s, to not round the bottom of my 9s, to drop the nose off the 1. I walked home for the entire year with a boy who lived near me named Francisco, about 2 inches shorter than me, talked the whole time even before I knew what he said, yeah...no rules about children being left alone back then, key around my neck. It was great and it was exciting and I still loved it.
I remember the first day in private school, QLS, where they did not care if you were not Lutheran and with the exception of one girl (who I still think was a bitch) made new friends who I still see to this day...parents now who may actually speak English....and I had a great time. The first day of high school ....went from a 2 classes per grade school to a 300+ student body per grade giant place (still afraid to step on the seal in the middle of the ground floor lest that 4 foot security guard yell and chase me)....some of my best days spent there. The first days of college and then grad school....always with a little trepidation, always the person I have always been enthusiastic about the new, optimistic about my chances to make friends. I learned a lot and developed a love of learning in the buildings, through great teachers, and was lucky to meet people in all these places that have made my life so much more interesting, fun, wonderful
As a working Mom I struggle...I had one too as did many people I know....with making sure I am at events for my kids, that I am a part of their days. I am lucky that we are surrounded and have befriended so many of the parents of their school mates and friends and have a network of people who are as dedicated to raising children who will add to the world as they add to their height. I make their lunches, I encourage them to be the best they can be, and most of all I remind them that they will be great in their environment...so far my boys seem to agree. This year I bought the cutest stickers for them from Hamptonpaperdesign.com (love, love, love them) that I plastered all over their school supplies (confession I loved buying school supplies for my school years and love buying them for theirs...hmmm early obsession with stationery) and had a notepad made by this company that has a guitar image personalized with the words Mommy's Thinking Of You....I write them little notes for their lunch boxes that remind them along with their snacks that they are never far from my thoughts. I am sad for all those people who have negative memories of school years....for me they are place I enjoy revisiting and helping my boys come along for the ride as they build their own school time memories....