Thursday, September 10, 2015

First Day of School by Kristine Rolofson

I raised three of my children in a remote town in north Idaho, where I sit now typing this blog post.  I am looking across the bay at the town and my little old house nestled on the side of the mountain.  It's a cool and cloudy morning, with a tinge of fall in the air.  The summer tourists are gone, the plums are ripe, the pears are falling from the trees and the bears are raiding gardens in preparation for the winter.
And school started  yesterday.

The first day of school here was always a momentous occasion.  The handful of young mothers tossed their children on the school bus, waved a quick goodbye and raced back to their kitchens to gather up the food for our annual Champagne Brunch.

In other words, we celebrated.  We had a tattered red hand towel printed with the words "Crying Towel" that we passed to the mother whose youngest child entered school.  We cheered, raised our glasses to celebrate her freedom and ate quiche and huckleberry coffee cake.

Fast forward to 1987, when my family and I had moved to Rhode Island.  I had no friends yet.  Instead of partying on the mountain, I now had a job as a secretary to a tax accountant.  It was the first day of school and my first day on the job.  There was, unfortunately, no champagne.

My boss filled me in on my duties and said, "You'll meet Karen, the bookkeeper, eventually, but she's going to be late.  It's the first day of school and she has to follow the school bus."

I couldn't imagine why anyone would need to follow the school bus, but I kept my mouth shut.

"She'll be crying," he continued.  

"Why?" 

He gave me an odd look.  "Because it's the first day of school."

I couldn't help blurting, "Why would anyone cry on the first day of school?"

He stared at me for a long moment.

"You're going to be good for her," he finally declared, chuckling as he returned to his office.  Sure enough, about half an hour later, in came Karen.  She was sniffling and red-eyed and definitely pathetic.  We made coffee.  She told me she followed the bus to make sure it arrived safely and delivered her two children to kindergarten and second grade.  I told her about champagne brunches.  

We've been friends ever since.  For many years, long after we'd left our jobs with the cheerful tax accountant, we met for coffee on the first day of school.  

And now, even without coffee, we touch base via email and texts.  This morning she sent me a photo of her granddaughter's first day of school.  Karen also told me she had discovered how not to cry:  skip the whole school bus scenario and take the child to school herself.  

I think next year I'll have a First Day of School brunch again.  All of those young mothers are now retired.  Those children with the new lunch boxes are all grown up.  We all have grandchildren.  But the grandmothers should drink champagne and eat huckleberry cake anyway, don't you think?

What do you remember about the first day of school?  Do you celebrate or cry?  And what traditions do you keep?
First day of school for the Rolofson children, 1985, right before their mother pops the corks.




24 comments:

  1. Since I always worked (and was already AT work when the bus came) I think I kind of cheated my kids. We have no pictures, no sad-funny memories. The only years that were tough for me were kindergarten and senior years, and even then the kids sailed merrily on, leaving me in a state of bewilderment as to where the time had gone. I do remember the sense of adventure I--and I think they--felt at the beginning of each school year. I still feel that. Loved your post.

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    1. Senior year was the worst for me, too! The beginning of the end of life as I knew it, darn it.

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  2. I remember the first day, when both children were finally in school, riding down the highway singing at the top of my lungs. But the worst first day was when school was cancelled due to a hurricane sweeping across New Jersey. Hurricane David – named after my son.

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    1. Too funny, Marion! What year was that? I remember sending my oldest off to college after an awful hurricane. We had had no electricity or running water for 3 days. I think he was thrilled to get to the airport and eat hot food, but my husband and I cried all the way home.

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  3. Your view is lovely, Kristine. I remember always being nervous, on the first day of school, and the sound of crickets chirping, the night before. Wonderful post!

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    1. Thank you, Jill. I will be so sad to leave the lake next week. :(

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  4. Kristine, I love this. As the mother of five kids, my mom definitely would have been joining in your brunches. The first day of school was a very good day for her. You should start them up again and make some new memories. Besides, any excuse to indulge in huckleberry cake works for me. I was always excited for school to start, but dreaded my 45 minute bus ride.

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    1. I'm going to make a huckleberry cake this weekend, just for old time's sake. I told my friends I was going to have a back-to-school reunion brunch next September. Their faces lit up! So funny.

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  5. Oh, the first day…. I drove my son to kindergarten's first day, went with him to the playground, and stood with him while we waited for the bell to ring. It wasn't the neighborhood school, you see, and he didn't know anyone at all. His pre-school friends had scattered (this is the big city, you know).

    He longs to ride the school bus, but only gets to for field trips.

    He left a few minutes ago. We now carpool with another mother.

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  6. I love the idea of a first day celebration! Just one more reason I love small towns so much! The first day of kindergarten was always the most emotional for me as a stay at home mom to my 3 kids. My first one couldn't wait to get away from me. My middle one climbed the fence and tried to chase me down the street and my 3rd one started kinder the same day I started teaching, so I could spy on him all day. Now as a kindergarten teacher, I know that the first day of school is often more emotional for the parents than the kids. I invite my parents in the first day, we all sit together and I read "The Kissing Hand." Then I have my students give their parents a kissing hand and send the sniffling parents away.

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    1. what a sweet thing to do! Now I need to go to the library and find that book!!

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  7. Kristine and all of you, what great memories. LeAnne---nice thing to do for parents. I loves school and so wanted my kids to love it, too. Mostly the first day of school was really happy. I only recall one when my oldest daughter went to junior high the first day. Consolidated school and most of her friends from elementary were on the other side of a dividing line and so they attended a different junior high. I drove her as I had to go to work. She sat, I sat. I asked if she wanted me to walk in with her. Heavens no! But we continued to sit until I started to worry that she wouldn't go and I'd have to take her to work with me. Finally a bus pulled in and she saw a girl she knew from tennis. Out she jumped and ran after the girl. I remember worrying all day about whether she would come home hating the school. It was my stomach upset. She was fine. Loved, loved, loved all of her classes and the new friends she'd made.
    Kristine---I could have used champagne.

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  8. I always worked too and I was/am a single mom. My neighbors always had the champagne brunch because they were thrilled the kids were out of the house. I only experienced that for the first time, this year. I have a 13 year old ADHD daughter. I took her off medication for the summer and she was like the energizer bunny on steroids. I was so glad to see the first day of school, I could have had my own party. Instead, I took a nap.

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    1. Oh, Shirley, I know what you mean. My daughter was ADHD before anyone knew what it was. Everyone just called her a "very busy girl". Every woman in the neighborhood, from 25-80, celebrated with me when she went off to kindergarten.

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  9. This is a very cute post, Kristine. Thanks for sharing.

    We only have furry, four-legged kids, and they never go off to school on their own! :-)

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  10. I always loved the first day of school and can still remember the smell of chalk and new clothes, and the days it rained I got to wear my yellow raincoat! Then we moved out into the county and I got to ride the school bus instead of walking to school. I also came home for lunch.

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    1. Ah, yes, the smell of chalk.... Do they even have chalk in school any more???

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  11. Awwww! Your post is so touching, Kristine. I'm guilty of following the bus to school- and ducking behind the flagpole to watch Danielle hop off and head to my SISTER!!- who is the Elementary school's psychologist and had come out to usher Danielle in... And still... I cried. Not much changed when I brought Danielle to college last year. This year, though, I'm doing better :)

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    1. Oh, Karen. Ducking behind the flag pole??? How funny. Did Danielle know you were doing that??? I'm glad college wasn't as traumatic this year. When we took son #2 to college (a 3 hour drive) for the first time we were in a huge on-campus traffic jam. The school had goofed and sent notices to every student to arrive at the same time, when it should have been staggered. After five hours of that, by the time we moved him into his dorm I was too tired to cry.

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  12. I think the idea of champagne, quiche, and huckleberry cake is genius! My kids were always a little morose about the beginning of school, but were also excited to see the friends they'd missed over the summer. And I was thrilled to know someone else had responsibility for them between 8:00 and 3:00. Kids were walking distance to school, so there was no bus-trauma.

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    1. Come to my party next year, Muriel! I loved to see that school bus pull up at the foot of the driveway. Then I knew I had 7 hours in which to write. Heaven!

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