Parents’ First Day of School

Parents’ First Day of School

I snapped this photo just down the street from my house, on my way to my first day of university classes this fall. It’s one half of a traditional but heart-wrenching scene: parents waving good bye to their young ones as they go to kindergarten for the first time. It’s that day when we hand our children over to an institution that we know will sometimes be brilliant, often benignly negligent, and occasionally incompetent in the care of our little ones. But even more importantly, this moment marks a new stage of development for the children themselves. From here on they will begin to understand themselves as more autonomous, beginning a process that, parents hope, will lead to responsible and mature adulthood.

I remember the first day I took my daughter, G to kindergarten at a very large downtown Montreal school. She looked so brave with the little piece of paper I had written her name on safety-pinned to her shirt, and her lunch-box in her hand. She had no idea what to expect. Neither did I.

At the end of that day I anxiously arrived at the day-care only to find myself living out a parent’s worst fear: they didn’t know who my daughter was, and had no idea where she might be. This in a school of a thousand students, all of them at that moment moving up and down staircases, running around me, and moving in and out of the school yard in huge crowds that could easily hide a lost child, on a very very busy downtown Montreal street, in the middle of the urban jungle. They didn’t seem all that worried, but I was frantic. As I stood there on the sidewalk, traffic whizzing by, trucks and sirens and delivery vehicles and people of all descriptions crowding by, I was remembering the little child with the note pinned to her shirt who trusted me so completely.

A heart-stopping half-hour later, I found G, sitting calmly in one of the vice-president’s offices, eating her granola bar. The systems that were supposed to be in place to identify and move her had clearly gone wrong, but the safety measures in place to protect any child – even an anonymous one – were still in place.

It was hard, after that first day, to take her back for a second try the next morning. Now she’s a teenager, but I still remember that first day, and how hard it was. There are many types of “first days” of course. Sometimes it’s a child leaving to move to another country, or to take a job, or to become a parent themselves. Part of our task as parents – at any age – is to nurture our children, and then let go. But it’s only human nature – we can’t help waving as we do, and standing on tiptoes, just to see if maybe they’ll wave back.