Tuesday, August 17, 2010

First day


Remember the first day back to school after a long summer vacation? New kids, new subjects, new routines, new fears. Even when I was 6 years old, I learned to fear the first day of school. 

And every year, I'd bombard my mother with all kinds of 'what ifs???' challenges. 

"What if no one likes me? What if no one knows me? What if I get lost? What if I miss the bus? What if no one will talk to me? What if no one picks me for their team at recess?"

What if, what if, what if...

My mother would go to our bookcase in the living room and pull one book off the shelf.
"Come here, my dear. Come sit with me and let's read this."

We'd sit side by side, hip to hip, and mother would spread the book across both our laps.  She would make a great effort to look at the table of contents, running her finger down each entry listed. She'd sigh, her finger would stop to point to a page number, and then she would shake her head. "No, that's not the one. Turn the page, dear."

I'd turn the shiny page for her, and she would repeat her search - her finger running down the page, her eyes absorbing the table of contents. 

'Come on, mom!' I'd say to myself. 'Come on - I have fears to go count!'

"Ah, hear it is. Page 67. Now, quit your squirming and let's read this together."

I'd grab the whole book and with my fat fingers try to turn to page 67. Mom would keep her finger on the table of contents page, just in case I'd forget 'page 67'.

Page 67
by Shel Silverstein

Last night, while I lay thinking here,
some Whatifs crawled inside my ear
and pranced and partied all night long
and sang their same old Whatif song:
Whatif I'm dumb in school?...


...Whatif nobody likes me?
Whatif a bolt of lightning strikes me?
Whatif I don't grow taller?
Whatif my head starts getting smaller?...
 


The poem addressed so many of my fears. What if they start a war? What if I tear my pants? What if I flunk a test? Whatif whatif whatif...

I loved that someone else knew my worries. I'd be appeased... until bedtime. Then the What Ifs would wait until my room was dark, and they would silently slip into my brain. One at a time they would march across my thoughts, in my dark quiet room.

This morning, I watched our neighborhood kids wait at the corner for the school bus. When I came inside the house, I was pulled to the bookcase, to a book of poetry, to page 67. 

I read the poem allowed, to our empty house. I hope just one child on the bus heard me. Heard me enough to get through today.

...Everything seems well, and then
the nighttime Whatifs strike again!

17 comments:

Pat Tillett said...

Great photo and post! I need to dig up photos of all our kids on their first day of their first year at school.

giantspeckledchihuahua said...

This is a perfect post every day of the year, for "kids" of all ages!

Ginny said...

This is such a beautiful and poignant story, and what a lovely remembrance of your mom.

Barb said...

I was a Whatif kid too. Later, when I became a teacher, I could easily spot the Whatif kids and give them a bit of extra encouragement. Shel is the best!

altadenahiker said...

This is why I love you. Well, this and the dog photos. Well, this and the dog photos and the desert tours.

Not to bring myself into this (but I always do, don't I?), at the end of summer, when all the trips and camps were over, I'd have too much time on my hands, and start thinking about things beyond my ability to rationalize or classify. First day of school and school in general was a relief; it never made me think too much.

BANJO52 said...

I wonder if anybody's been free of the Whatifs for an entire lifetime?

Sandra said...

you have made my day, I have found another What Iffer. My husband calls me the Queen of What Ifs and i have been that way my whole life. and so is Ginny, of Let your light shine. we are so much what iffers we call our selves CL club, for chicken little who was always screaming the sky is falling, the sky if falling. i went to the poem and copied it into a word document for myself to read. thanks for the story and for the poem.

Brenda's Arizona said...

Too bad we can't have a 'whatif' conference - you know, like a 24 hour chat room.
AH, I KNOW my mother would never let me hang around you! Talk about trouble...

Barb, yes, as a teacher it often is easy to spot the Whatif kids. And often I found it tempting to tell them I was one, too.

Banjomyn, I bet there is a much eloquent 'whatif' poem out there that you are familiar with? I thought about asking you before posting this... your finds are always so good!

Thanks, everyone! No whatifs need haunt us today!

Ashley said...

Oh, I love Shel Silverstein! I have a few favorites of his too. Thanks for bringing that back. Good poem.

Pasadena Adjacent said...

I confess. I'm completely unfamiliar with "What If" I didn't suffer from it. I suffered from the dread of school's return. Starts August 1st. The date I considered the back hill slide into September's camp torture

The Retired One said...

Soooo true!!!
I remember once someone told me to imagine the VERY worst that could happen in a situation I worried about. The she told me to imagine the VERY BEST that could happen in that exact situation. Then she said something very wise. She said she guaranteed me that what would happen would be somewhere in the middle or towards the best. She promised.
And you know what? She was right about 99.9% of the time.

Elaine said...

Your mother was a very wise woman. She picked the perfect poem for you to read. Nice post for the first day of school.

Thérèse said...

For little ones and for grown-ups too...

Gus, Louie and Callie said...

WE love the photo and yepper Mom's are so smart...

Big Sloppy Kisses
Gus, Louie and Callie

Sam said...

I think I still do that - every Monday morning!

Sam

Judy said...

Wow! What a Blast from the Past - First Day of School!
New dress, new school bag, pencils, erasers, etc caused excitement, but then there were the Whatifs...
Wonderful post. I, too, am a Shel Silverstein fan.

Joanne Casey said...

My first day at school, I excused myself by saying "I have to do a pish".