Monday, September 19, 2011

Twila’s First Day of School

Twila’s first day of full-day, pre-kindergarten was mediocre.

She was SO excited for school to start. I mean for months she had been asking when she got to start all day school. So maybe that was part of the trouble. With such high hopes, how can things possibly go as well as she envisioned?

The school she attends is wonderful. This is her third year there and every teacher we’ve had has been completely delightful. In fact I considered proposing marriage to her first preschool teacher and she was at least thirty years older than me. But when you find love like that, you just don’t want to let it go. Mrs. Johnson was like a grandmother to Twila. She was so gentle and warm; Twila literally didn’t want to leave with me after school.

But this is Twila’s first year of all-day school and, though we had been anticipating this new era of schooling all summer, I think we were both feeling some nerves about it when the morning of the first day arrived.

Everything was ready. Her “homework” had been completed two weeks ago, we had cleaned out her Hello Kitty lunch box, the first day of school outfit was clean and laid out, Twila’s hair was washed. We donned the backpack, braided the hair, photographed the new outfit and off we went.

Being eager and nervous we left far too early and still somehow felt we needed to rush down the hall to Twila’s classroom. 121, 121, 121, I chanted in my head so we wouldn’t get off course. Finally the room was insight but to my surprised horror, as we approached I saw a large group of children, already sitting in a circle through the open door. I gritted my teeth. I checked my watch, trying to keep my cool so Twila wouldn’t pick up on my anxiety. But as soon as she saw a classroom full of new kids already sitting in an organized group, I felt her tense up.

“Alright,” I faked brightly, “looks like they’re ready to have fun, let’s get inside.” Twila pulled my arm back towards the coat hooks. “Here, lets hang up your jacket and oh! Looks like your lunch box goes right here—how fun!” I was laying it on thick; the unnatural cheeriness in my voice would have terrified anyone. Without giving Twila a chance to let her worries slow her down, I pulled her inside the classroom, feeling horribly like we were interrupting a class long in progress.

“Look at this fun room!” I enthused, “and all these nice kids.” As if on cue, a scraggly haired little girl turned from the circle, a thick train of dark blood running from her nose. I stifled a gasp. Before I could look to see if the teachers had the nose situation under control, a large boy who looked at least a year older than Twila ran up to us and announced loudly, “I went poop in the potty!”

“Great!” I smiled, nodding with gritted teeth. Jada wandered off and began playing with toys. Twila hid her face in my neck. Suddenly the boy’s attention shifted to a basket of plastic animals just behind me and he ran to it, “Are these toys for going poopy in the potty?” He wondered loudly.

The knot in my stomach tightened. “Let’s find you a seat,” I whispered to Twila, noticing with disappointment that most of the kids, except the enthusiastic boy, seemed much younger than Twila. This was my worry when signing her up for a third year of preschool, would she be the oldest in the class?

Just before I could worry further, the teacher’s aide approached and asked if I had signed Twila up for Early Birds. I told her I hadn’t. “OK, she smiled nicely, then I’ll just ask you guys to wait outside; class doesn’t start for ten minutes.”

Any embarrassment I might have felt for barging into the wrong class was quickly overbalanced by my relief that we weren’t late, and these were not her classmates.

Without hesitation, we left the classroom.

In the hall, I was delighted to see a handful of older children, boys and girls waiting with their parents for class to start. The kids looked nice and of an equal age to Twila. And their noses were blessedly clean.

A few minutes later, the Early Birds were distributed to their classes and Twila’s peers were admitted to the classroom. Twila began to shrink against my leg. I felt her grip tightening. I told her I would stay until she was settled. I looked around suddenly wondering where Jada was, but quickly spotted her at the activities table, elbowing a five year old boy out of her way.

I joined Twila at a low table where I started filling her ear with words of praise and encouragement. She turned to me and, interrupting my monologue of love, said, “Mom I think it might be easier for me if you just leave now.”

I was like the Road Runner. A cloud of my dust dissipated where I had kissed her on the cheek before hightailing it. Jada took two handfuls of sand with her as I airlifted her from the activities table. We were in the car before she had a chance to complain about having to leave.

The day was long and quiet. I kept glancing at the clock to see when I got to go pick up Twila, a habit I know will disappear in a few weeks when the new spare time gets absorbed.

When I picked Twila up—nearly five hours later—she was the first one to the door. Last year each child yelled “mommy!” in turn, and ran for a hug. This year Twila yelled, “That day was too long!” With the teachers, students and other parents gathered like an audience, I smiled, thanked the teachers and scooped up Twila’s stuff.

That night Twila moped and moaned about how long the day was, about not knowing anyone, about being the youngest in the class (I doubt it) about everyone else knowing each other (I doubt it).

I tried to reason with her, assuring her that it would get easier and better every day. But she remained sad and unconvinced. I think it contributed to her lowness that Ryan was gone in the middle of a seven day trip. He had to miss the very first drop off and pick up and his return was not yet in sight.

The next morning as she finished breakfast I brought a nice outfit to her and asked if she wanted help getting dressed. “Where are we going?” She asked innocently.

“School,” I answered.

“Oh, mom, school? I said I didn’t want to go back—it’s too long!”

After a while of bantering like this and further disagreeing about whether or not other children in her class also felt nervous and also felt like they didn’t know anyone, I eventually prodded and cajoled her into the car.

This time she asked that I stay for an hour which I expertly negotiated down to five minutes. As I sat, knees to ears at a tiny table watching Twila draw with fat markers, and while Jada mingled, a little girl came in, teary and clinging to her mother’s leg who looked frazzled as she rocked and tipped on one foot, holding a toddler in her arms.

The two of them whispered and negotiated in a familiar way by the door. The little girl had red eyes and cried in earnest. Far from pitying them, I felt exultant. “Look! Look Twila,” I whispered. She’s feeling sad about being dropped off too! She looks nice! Why don’t you go see if she wants to do something?”

Twila did, and within a few minutes the girls were playing somewhat happily together (the new girl still looked a little stony faced) and I was able to give Twila a squeeze and slip out.

That afternoon as I knelt in the doorway to greet Twila after school she shouted, “That was the best day of school ever!”