I think it was John McGahern in his book Memoir who likened starting school to an exit from Eden. Starting school heralds the end of freedom from worry and responsibility, the end of innocence, and is the beginning of the really tough part of the human journey that ends in adulthood. My firstborn started school last Monday. We’d been looking forward to it, though we knew Zach would get emotional. He’s a smart and sensitive child. The surprise, to me, was that I got emotional about it, too. Standing in the classroom on the first day, surrounded by parents and their tiny little offspring all decked out in brand new school uniforms, I started tearing up. Zach was sitting in his little chair, at a little table, trying hard not to cry as he played with some building blocks. He was strong enough to hold it in (for a while anyway). I wasn’t. I turned to face the wall so he wouldn’t see me, pulling my sunglasses down off the top of my head (their perpetual resting place, summer and winter) and shielded my eyes. Mothers and grandmothers smiled at me. Why weren’t they crying, too? It was the end, couldn’t they see it? The paradise of the first few years these children spent at home was OVER. The next 13 years would be dictated by the schedule, pace and demands of the school system.
Our kids will slowly learn the ways of institutionalisation or they will rebel against it. Either approach has its pitfalls. This day was day one of this long, horrid trip into the unknown. I cried, perhaps, because I knew that Zach would have to make his way. Only Zach can learn. Only Zach can draw the pictures, answer the questions, play on the sports field. He has to do it on his own, and I can only stand back, offering encouragement, support—but I can’t do it for him. I can’t be his hands or his brains or his will. He has to do that himself. My Zach. My Zach...is his own Zach. So, that was my first lesson on Zach’s first day of school.