First day jitters

I wasn’t even leaving the house, and I was terrified.

The boy wore a “Phineas and Ferb” t-shirt, plaid shorts, and his new sneaks. He had a fresh haircut and a new backpack. A day earlier, he’d soaked in “Meet the Teacher” day like it was a rock concert. He’d declared, “I’m glad summer is over. I’m ready for tomorrow to be here.” I didn’t blame him. I mean, his teacher was attractive.

Now, at just after 7am, his stomach hurt.

“I’m a little nervous,” he said. “First day jitters.”

I tried to put myself back in third grade. I wanted to impart whatever wisdom I’d picked up during that time thirty years ago. Here’s what I remember:

It was the year I decided I wanted to be a writer.

I had Mrs. Parker as a teacher, and I’m petty sure she was tall with brown hair.

During an indoor recess, my friends and I were mimicking the “Frogger” video game, and I hit my hand so hard on a desk that my right-hand ring finger still pops to this day.

And that’s it.

Seriously, that’s the sum total of everything I can remember from my third grade experience. Sure, I’m certain I have other memories—good and bad–from that time, but I don’t associate any of them with being in third grade.

Still groggy this morning from a restless few hours of sleep, I was about to send my first son off to his first day in third grade.

And I had nothing.

No wisdom. No relatable experience. No memories of what it meant to be a third grader. It’s my job to have those things at the ready for just these moments, and I had zilch.

This is what gets me: in 30 years, my son will look back on this upcoming year of his life. He will ask himself, “What do I remember about third grade?”

There is an ever-shifting line we walk as parents, straddling the desire to make every memory a good one and the knowledge that it’s impossible to make that happen. No matter what we do, no matter how much fun we provide, no matter how many checks we write, no matter how strict or cool we are, no matter what…there is nothing we can do to determine what our kids hold on to. There is nothing we can do to lock up the right memories.

It’s a powerless feeling that makes some of us try to do too much. We try to protect them from the bad stuff. We try to re-invent or manufacture the good stuff. We coddle. We lecture. We put them in bubbles. We cast blame on others. We take blame on ourselves.

And in the end, what will they remember? It’s impossible to say.

I know this: when I think of my childhood, I think of being happy. Grade to grade, good things happened, bad things happened, good teachers made me better, bad teachers made me stronger, and every day I got to go home to two parents who loved me. Put another way, it didn’t really matter what grade I was in or what memories I had, because I just remember being happy. And a finger that was probably broken. But mostly being happy.

As parents, we inflate moments like today. It’s the first day of school, and in the moment, it means something to the kid, which—translated—means a lot more to us. Better put, it means everything to us. Thirty years from now, we’ll remember this day a lot better than our kids will.

That’s all for 30 years from now, though. This morning, my son’s stomach hurt. He literally sat on my knee and hugged me. I said all I knew to say:

“Listen more than you talk. Use the manners you already know. Have fun. Be awesome. Be you.”

It was all I knew to say, and fortunately, it was all I needed to say. He was gone to the carpool in 30 seconds, and I heard laughing on the way out the door. I suspect he is now sitting in that third grade classroom being awesome in a way he will struggle to remember 30 years from now.

And that’s cool. As long as he’s happy.

The boy and his buddy on the first day of school

The boy and his buddy on the first day of school

Brad Willis

Brad Willis is a writer based in Greenville, South Carolina. Willis spent a decade as an award-winning broadcast journalist. He has worked as a freelance writer, columnist, and professional blogger since 2005. He has also served as a commentator and guest on a wide variety of television, radio, and internet shows.

You may also like...