I clutched onto my mother’s leg, pulling her to a dead stop outside the chain-link fence.
We’d been here a hundred times before, but always to drop off my older brother. Now it was my turn. My turn to go to a “big kid’s” school. My turn to carry a lunchbox to school and return with this strange thing called “homework”.
I wasn’t at all excited about it.
The first day of kindergarten for a painfully shy and quiet child is not filled with excitement but dread. I had gone to preschool for two years, in hopes that the interaction would prepare me for school, but even I was aware that it hadn’t worked. I was still terrified of other people, other children. They were all intimidating, perhaps seemingly even more so because I was so much younger.
I missed the cut-off, but they still were letting me start kindergarten. I still had time before I turned five. This feeling of not belonging, of being in the wrong grade, would follow me until college – when your age really doesn’t matter anymore. For thirteen years I would always be very aware of my age, what milestones my friends would meet first, and how much time passed between their birthdays and mine. Although, eventually, I would tell people with pride that I graduated at the age of 17. As if it meant I was a prodigy of some sort.
Back to just outside the fence…
The other children ran around the small playground, screaming and laughing and quickly becoming lifelong friends. As fun as it all looked, as much as my little hands ached to swing across the monkey bars, I couldn’t bring myself to walk through that gate.
My mother, with my new baby sister on her hip, carefully peeled my fingers from her leg and took my hand gently. She held my hand as she coaxed me through the fence and onto the playground. She held my hand as I glanced, curiously, at the other kids on the swings, the slide, skipping rope. She held my hand as we walked into the classroom. She held my hand as she introduced me to my teacher – Mrs. Land. She held my hand as Mrs. Land took me by the other.
And then she let go.
And I exploded into tears.
I bawled as she walked out the door. I wailed as Mrs. Land led me around the room, pointing out the play kitchen where other kids were “baking” wooden cookies, the science table where other kids were examining leaves under magnifying glasses. I squeezed a few tears out as she pointed out the drawing corner where other kids were scribbling on rolls of butcher paper, the reading corner with shelves of books where other kids were lounging on beanbag chairs making up stories to go with the pictures. I sniffled as she showed me the colorful carpet where she would read to us every day, the cubbies where I could put my jacket and my yellow Cabbage Patch lunchbox. I wiped away a tear as she guided me in recognizing the letters above the cubby: R-O-X-A-N-N-E. A place that was my very own.
And not another tear fell from my eyes that day.
No, those got saved up until the first day of first grade.
I never did seem to get over that gripping fear of the First Day of School.