for 5 years i imagined what the morning of adrian’s first day of school would be like. he would wake up super excited, feeling proud to be big enough to go to school. i would win extra mommy points for preparing an elaborate version of his favorite breakfast and snap the cutest photos of his smiling face, rocking his new backpack and first-day-of-school outfit. we would leave the house with plenty of time to get through morning traffic, arriving to his school early enough to chat with his teacher and help him settle into his new classroom. after the other children poured in, i would step out of the room and stand outside the door and just watch my boy not miss me, me sobbing because i don’t want to let go of him needing me for everything just yet.
well, obviously i was a new mom when i had this “vision” because except for the crying part, our morning on adrian’s first day of school unfolded exactly the opposite in every way.
for starters, i slid out of my bed almost an hour later after my alarm went off. i let knowledge of the fact that i’m technically off work (from my main job anyway) for the week get to my head, so i did not feel like being productive before 5:30 a.m. finally pulling myself together, i got dressed and pulled out my laptop to send out a few important work-related emails (i couldn’t help myself) before it was time to wake up adrian. who, by the way, came crawling into bed with me at 3:30 in the morning. which is fine, obviously, but i don’t think either of us got any good sleep past 3:30 because my bed is shockingly too small. as a point of reference, i’m a 5-foot, 115-pound woman and adrian is, well, a 4-year-old kid. his toddler bed accommodates us better than mine.
adrian woke up happy though, spoiling me with the best hugs. he stretches in the morning much the same way he did when he was a baby – clenched fists, puffed cheeks, toes pointing downward. that sweet sight lasted for all of 5 minutes until his eyes became a waterfall of tears at the mention of the word “school”. “let’s get you dressed for your first day of school!” i said. “but i don’t want to go to school!!” he replied. i don’t know where his fear of school stems from, so it’s never made sense to me. from his infancy i’ve been deliberate about instilling in him a love of reading and learning, something i’m proud of. he loves working on art or science projects with me and does equally well with playing by himself as he does with other kids. i’ve tried fishing out of him what exactly did he not like about the idea of school and all i got was “because”.
since getting him to use the bathroom, put his school clothes on and tidy his bed took so long, and i had gotten up “late”, there was no time for a fancy breakfast. oatmeal it was.
the school where adrian’s enrolled at is exactly 2.8 miles from our house. on any other day leaving with 15 minutes before he has to be there would be a generous amount of traveling time. yesterday i was reminded that when the school year is in session you have to over-estimate how long your morning commute will take. your sanity will be preserved if you do this, even while a loudly wailing 4-year-old is strapped in your backseat.
we arrived at his school 4 minutes late. i guess that’s not really a big deal, considering i showed up 30 minutes late to a job interview before and still got the job, but, i don’t know, i guess i just don’t want to be known as that mom.
we step out of the car and as we’re walking to the front of the school adrian has a complete melt down. right there, in the middle of the parking lot, as other parents quietly passed us by with their kids, giving me the most pathetic looks and saying, “awww”. we finally make it inside the building, i clock him in – 7 minutes late – and head down the short hallway to his classroom. adrian starts to quiet down as we walk past the table with seashells and a play area. he instantly recognizes his teacher, ms. smith, and starts to feel a little better knowing there’s another familiar face around. hesitantly, he hangs up his backpack on a hook that has his name tag above it. the classroom is beautifully set up and kids are already playing on the floor with colorful magnetic shapes building castles and boxes. adrian joins the kids on the floor, timidly at first, but then starts to loosen up as his excitement builds over what he can do with the shapes.
i fill in ms. smith on our morning and she mostly just nods her head in understanding. i didn’t even bother taking first-day-of-school pictures. after a couple minutes i kneel down to say goodbye to adrian. “i’ll see you in a few hours,” i tell him kissing him on the cheek,which was of no comfort at all. he starts to cry again, then scream, and a part of me wanted for the ground to open up and swallow us both whole. i let the teacher take over and as i walked away i couldn’t help myself but turn around and look at my boy. yes, it was embarrassing, but it was even more heartbreaking for me. the nearly three-year-long chapter of our lives before this one just ended, and it’s still a bit fresh for both of us. the look on his face, the tone of his cries, were too reminiscent of the worst day of our lives. maybe that’s the part of the idea of school he didn’t like – i wouldn’t be able to stay with him.
i made it outside the room before adrian or his teacher could see me cry. though i refrained from peeking inside the door window, i stood on the other side of his classroom walls, listening. another parent asked me if that was my kid making all that noise and when i said yes, she admitted that her kid was the same way on his first day of school. her words weren’t of any comfort at all – “this is different,” i thought – but i appreciated the effort. after about 3 minutes i realized the crying stopped. i thought maybe i was lost in a daze and had gone tone death to reality, but the crying and screaming really did stop. maybe he was going to have a great first day of school after all?
my mom, who is visiting from out of the country, was waiting for me in the car. i let out a sigh of relief as i got back in. “how was it?” she asked. “he cried bloody murder when i left, but he seems better now.”
to be honest, i must’ve checked the time on my phone a million times throughout the day, figuring how much time was left before i had to go back and pick adrian up from school. i wanted to know if he was having fun, if he had changed his mind about school and if he’d ask to go back. but i was really looking forward to picking him up because i wanted him to see that mommy isn’t going anywhere, that i’ll always be here for him everyday.that i’ve always been here for him, even on the days when he couldn’t see me.
when i walked back into his classroom later in the afternoon, i could tell that the first day of school ended up being a success. he and two other little boys were at the far side of the room playing with a wooden castle, dinosaurs and wooden blocks. “he did great,” his teacher told me. “after about 3 minutes he stopped crying. since then he’s been really engaged and attentive.” i tiptoed around to get closer to adrian and his new friends. i listened for a little bit to their play monologues. “ahhhh! he’s trapped in the jail!”
“this dinosaur is super fast.”
i was so happy, i kind of wanted him to keep on playing. but i knew the teacher was ready for us to go home, so i let adrian know i was back and that we needed to go home. i was thrilled when he asked to keep playing for a few more minutes. “you’ll come back tomorrow,” i said, at which he lit up and said, “yay!” so not the boy i had dropped off in the morning. i was able to get my first-day-of-school pictures after all.
the entire ride back home he couldn’t stop telling me about his day. he was able to play and read books and go outside and play with water. “i love school, mommy.” i wanted to shout out my window to my fellow highway travelers, “my son loves school now!” but i think the best part of both of our day was seeing each other again.
though, let me say, i love his school too. the school, Creative Inspiration Journey School, was actually under construction 5 years ago when we first lived in florida. i didn’t know much about it then, whether it would be public or private, or just a daycare center, but i drove past it all the time. when i moved back to florida last august to help take care of my late grandfather, CIJS had opened for their first school year. one day after a post office run for work i decided to drop in and see if they’d give me a tour. the owner and director of CIJS was the first to meet me and she gladly obliged.
it didn’t take long for me to fall in love with the place and their curriculum. almost everything i believe in when it comes to education for children they put in practice with the students. the curriculum is Reggio-Emilia inspired (from Italy), which basically means it’s less worksheets and more hands-on, project-based learning. the teachers tend to follow in whatever direction the kids are showing an interest in, on any subject. this approach takes the frustration out of learning even in early education, and encourages critical thinking and creativity.
what makes the school even more of a dream come true is how environmentally conscious they are. they teach the kids about our responsibility to care for the earth by doing simple things like recycling, not being wasteful, and respecting wildlife. throughout the week the kids participate in various outdoor activities, like gardening and play. and get this, their meals are even made from scratch, using very little processed foods! the kids eat family-dining style, assisting with table settings and clean up.
CIJS believes in small classroom sizes, as do i, thus allowing the teachers to have more one-on-one time with each student. i appreciate this so much because every child is at a different level in their learning and development, and i believe they should be met where they’re at, not forced to keep up with other kids or some overarching ideal.
i could go on and on about how impressive CIJS is. it’s a miracle that school like this even exists in our neighborhood. i couldn’t have asked for a better start to his school journey. what an amazing opportunity!
my only hope is that by next year when he graduates kindergarten that they will have added 1st grade to their grade levels. it would be so wonderful to keep adrian there another year, not to mention the social benefits, because i don’t know if i’d want to put him in any other elementary school after CIJS. but i know this, if i can’t find a school just as good as CIJS then i will just home school my kid. i shock myself when i say that because just a short year ago i didn’t think i could do it. mostly because home schooling isn’t an option for working single parents. but since my promotion and proposal acceptance to work from home, plus the couple of freelance writing side gigs i’ve been able to snatch up, home schooling may be more within our reach than i thought. we’ll have to cross that bridge when we get there to see.
in the mean time, here’s to a great year of school! i’m eager to see how much adrian will grow and his love for learning deepen even more.
*this is not a promotional post. i was not compensated in any way to write this post.