I’m not sure of the historical significance behind August 31st? For I know August 31st could have been the day the Ming Dynasty fell or the day Shakespeare decided to begin writing? Regardless of what may or may not have happened on August 31st for anyone else at any other time in our Earth’s history, this past August 31st, 2010, held a deep significance for the members of my family.
My wife had been dreading August 31st since the beginning of summer. Just a mention of this day had her crying like someone just ran over our dog and just after she got done watching Terms of Endearment. So this summer I hid calendars, pulled batteries out of watches, and kept talk about the end of August to a bare minimum to avoid having to explain to the kids why Mommy was in the bathroom crying.
You see, August 31st, 2010 was the first day of school. More specifically, it was our youngest daughter’s first day of Kindergarten.
Now first days of school are nothing new to my family. Hannah started with a twice a week for two hours nursery school program (that was the first day I had to talk Alicia down off the roof for). Every end of August since our days at the Pennside Presbyterian Nursery School, my wife and I have ushered one or both of our children to some sort of voluntary or state mandated institute of learning. The only thing that had kept my wife out of Wernersville State Mental Hospital had been the kids’ schools either didn’t last longer than breakfast at a busy diner or one of them was home. The one that stayed home, for the past four years, had been our Emma (She could be found clung to Alicia’s leg like a pilot fish clings to a Tiger Shark’s gills most of the time.).
As much as I tried to manipulate the space time continuum this summer, sure enough, Tuesday, August 31st came. The morning my kids were, according to Alicia, “abandoning their mother”, I think we all got up with butterflies in our stomachs and all for different reasons.
Hannah (who is inching ever closer to the neuroses her mother enjoys) has gotten this way since she was in nursery school. Emma had the nervous energy of excitement (she was pumped to ride the bus). I was excited for another school year to start (although Hannah would be starting division this year which does not bode well for her if she thinks I can help her) and Alicia had butterflies because it would be the first day no one would be clinging to her leg. She was one “I love you Mommy” from the girls away from having her head split open.
But we all got up and all began our morning routines. Emma and Hannah ate breakfast, brushed their teeth, and got dressed (their clothing already picked out 3 weeks prior by their mother), and the three of us all managed to avoid Alicia, who said she was getting dressed and doing her hair (but could have been lying on the bathroom floor in the fetal position for all I knew).
When Alicia finally came down the stairs, the three of us were engrossed in a rerun of Full House, so we didn’t notice her at first. Once she walked in front of the television, I snapped out of my trance and saw her face. She had a melancholy look on her face and it was at this point when I started to empathize with my wife.
Where I had seen this day as just another step in our kids’ lives and a good excuse to chop their bedtimes by a half an hour, Alicia saw it as our children never being our “babies” again and their childhood essentially over (it’s been said that girls often marry men who are like their fathers…I may have married someone who was very much like my mother). There was to be no tugging at her shirt or requests for Fruit Snacks once the bus came to take her children away.
As I watched my wife’s emotion I realized something. The thing about being a father is no matter how much I try or think I do, I will never (can never) have the type of connection Hannah and Emma have with their mom. Short of passing a bowling ball (and then trying to breastfeed it) there is something to be said for having your stomach used as a Holiday Inn for 9 months. About feeling your baby inside of you. Kicking. Moving. Giving you monstrous indigestion. That all creates a connection that, on this day, could only let me understand how Alicia felt and not share the box of Kleenex she was plowing through.
Everyone finally was ready, the kids had backpacks and lunch boxes ready, I was dressed for work, and Alicia managed to remain not so surprisingly calm about all of it (credit to my wife, she is extraordinarily strong when she needs to be). We headed up to the corner of Pondview Drive and Canvasback Court to our designated bus stop with the 75 other parents with their kids. Alicia fought back the urge to kidnap Emma and take her back to the house. The kids chit chatted with their friends. And I tried to stay clear of having to talk to anyone. No matter what any one of my family members were feeling that morning, we all managed to at the very least, put on a good face as we waited for bus number 20 to arrive.
Bus number 20 pulled up to our corner and the door swung open. I stood right next to my wife for fear she might try to get on the bus and sit with Emma. We both gave them kisses and hugs and wished them a great day at school. Hannah held Emma’s hand (which almost brought a tear to my eye) and the two of them never looked back at us as they got on their bus.
Emma made it to school. Alicia, president of the APT at Lorane Elementary, went to school too. She was going to be helping get kids to their classes and helping them through the lunch lines. So she had an opportunity to see her little girl on her first day. Emma barely paid attention to her mother let alone feel the effects of the manufactured magnitude of the day her mother had created. Alicia told me later that it made her fell better knowing Emma was okay (even if she did get blown off by her). It made her realize our little girl was not so little anymore. And if she were okay, then Alicia was okay.
This past August 31st, 2010 was a big day. My little girl grew up in the matter of one school day as she became a Kindergartner. My wife, as much as she had initially dreaded the day had not only kept her emotions in check but by the end of the day, had accepted the empty house the full day Kindergarten program at Lorane Elementary school left for her and I was happy that they were both able to make it through their first day.