How much can I bend the rules of the advice column? Nobody actually asked me this question. But I kept hearing it this past week anyway. I heard it in the nervous lineup of students outside of my children’s school, in the young woman who told me that she was worried about tests, in the young man who said that he hoped that he would make friends this year. The question is this:
School is starting. Am I going to be OK?
This is the best answer that I’ve got.
The first day of kindergarten just keeps happening.
The first day of kindergarten brings the moment of excitement and loss and possibility. The first day of kindergarten brings the moment when you let go of mom and dad’s hand and walk bravely and tentatively into the crowd. You walk even though most of those hollering children and clipboard-carrying grownups are taller and louder and way more boisterous than you. The first day of kindergarten brings the moment when you let go of your child’s hand, when you watch as that impossibly little person (how can she be old enough for this sort of thing?) recedes until she is gone. A car into the distance, a last wave before the door closes, Hansel or Gretel into the vast forest.
T.S. Eliot wrote, “the end is where we start from.” I’m not sure whether or not he was referring to kindergarten. But the words sure fit. Kindergarten’s ending which is also a beginning echoes throughout our lives. Think of the young couple getting married: this day of celebration is also the burial of their primary identity as sons and daughters. Think of the family preparing for a loved one’s surgery: of the hopes and the fears, of the only guarantee being the sure knowledge that things will be forever different. Think of moving away from home. Think of waiting for a birth. Think of waiting for a death.
Here is the walk into the crowd, the promise that you will not return unchanged.
The first day of kindergarten hangs before you, a heavy icon for transition. The first day of kindergarten is the earliest occasion of beginning and ending which most of us can clearly remember. A big part of being 5 years old is gone from my memory. But I remember the frightening, wonderful newness of that first day, of trundling into a classroom with a freshly purchased lunchbox clutched in my little hand. The horizon of possibility was racing away from me so fast that I felt as though I were riding upon a great rocket ship.
Those of us who care for a child are given the difficult gift of living the first day of kindergarten a second time. We get to (we have to?) watch as that child who has rarely been out of our sight for more than a few hours claims a startling and wondrous freedom. Here is the same moment experienced from within two different bodies.
Count the pencils and the pens in your backpack. And then sling that pack over your shoulders. Tie your shoes as best you can. Check that your lucky hat is securely on your head. And then start walking. Walking into the first day of kindergarten.
This is the end where we start from.