Monday was Ryan’s first day of school. Yes, I know it’s November, but once he turned two at the end of October he became eligible for the preschool class at the nearby church. We figured it would be good for him.
His brother started preschool at two and we thought it would be nice for Ryan to be around other kids more in a social and structured setting. In the back of our minds, Amy and I were thinking that it could be good for him to get a head start understanding what school is and separating for a few hours from us. In other words, get all the separation anxiety and crying out of his system now before he turns three and it “really counts.”
We wanted to get Alex involved to help Ryan with the transition. You know, big brother telling little brother that “it’s not so bad…don’t worry.”
Me: Alex, your little brother is going to school in a few days.
Alex: Are you going to stay with him? (Alex remembers I stayed with him as part of a parent co-op when he first went to school)
Me: Well, maybe for a few minutes but this is the type of school where I’m just going to drop him off and pick him up like I do with you now.
Alex: I think you should stay with him.
Alex: Because otherwise he’ll be scared.
Now that’s a good big brother, and some unexpected sage advice from a five year old. Of course, I patted him on the head and blew him off. What does he know anyway, I’m the smart daddy.
First day of school arrives and I made a nice special breakfast for Ryan. He ate almost none of it. A bad omen. While we had spoken to him about his first day of school and how much fun he would have, he clearly didn’t know what we were talking about nor did we expect him to.
And of course it’s raining. Not just raining but a torrential downpour complete with thunder and lightning. That happens in the Bay Area about once every five years or so. Another bad omen? Maybe God doesn’t think a kid with the last name Cohen should go to a Lutheran school. Nah, he’s got better things to worry about I’m sure. But now I not only have to navigate the first day but also the rain.
We arrive a few minutes before 9am along with a number of other parents. I make nervous chatter with a dad in front of me about how this is our first day. We walk in the hallway and Ryan quickly takes off into the bathroom nearby. “I wash hands,” he says. Sure, you can wash your hands. He darts out of the bathroom but into the wrong classroom and immediately starts playing with a toy shopping cart. I nervously make my way through the gaggle of parents dropping their older kids off and grab Ryan. “Sorry bud, this isn’t your class.”
Finally, we get to his classroom and lo and behold there’s a substitute teacher. She and the aide seem really nice but a little timid. Ryan eats timid for breakfast. In these situations when you know your kid is going to cry no matter what, we’re strong believers in the “rip off the band-aid” approach. There won’t be a long goodbye, just a “Daddy will be back soon, he has to run some errands. I’ll see you soon.” And after a quick chat with the teacher she takes Ryan and I leave to the sound of his little boy cries. With the first kid those cries can break your heart. With the second kid it’s a little more like, “you’ll be fine, don’t worry.”
One of our friends has a daughter in Ryan’s class but we didn’t see her at drop off. I text her that maybe we’ll see her at pick-up and she replies that she saw Ryan at around 9:10am when she got to school and he seemed fine. Yeah! I quickly text Amy at work that our little man has already settled down. I’m already on my way to the Bagel Café for a celebratory chocolate chip muffin. Then, I’m going to go home to a quiet house. Alex is already at school. Maybe I will watch TV for a bit or do some writing. Daddy wins again!
Daddy loses again. It’s 9:40am. I’m heading home and my phone rings, it’s a number I don’t recognize. But, I already know who it is. As I answer, I hope maybe it’s just the administrator saying that I forgot to sign something. I know better. It’s the Director. “Ryan hasn’t yet calmed down. We don’t want to traumatize him. Maybe you should come get him early.” My heart sinks. I should have known it was too good to be true. I’m thinking I can pick him up around 11am. She says “how about 10am.” Ugh. I mention that another mom said he was doing ok. Turns out he would be ok for a few minutes and than go right back to crying.
When I get to school, I go to the office and talk to the Director. We decide that I’ll just peek into the window and if he’s doing ok I can hang out for a bit but not pick him up. If not, we’ll try again next time. When I look in the window to his class, little Ryan is in a tight bear hug with the teacher. They’re sitting on the floor and it’s pretty clear he’s not exactly having the time of his life.
I walk in and his eyes light up. “DADDY!!” He comes running with a big smile on his face. He says “I cry.” I ask him how school was and he says “Awesome!” I can’t help but laugh. He knows that’s what I would want to hear.
We get to the car and Ryan is all chatty and happy. “I go airport. I see trains.” It’s still raining so I tell him we can go to U-Me, an indoor play place for a bit. “I go Yooou-Meeee.” Sure, kid. We spend two hours at U-Me playing with all the other two-year-old flunkees. He’s the best behaved I’ve ever seen him. Walks up to a kid who is crying and asks, “Are you ok?” And gives him a hug. He plays, he eats, he’s just a dream. Maybe he’s just making sure I don’t send him back to school.
Later in the day, Alex arrives home from school and I relay to him how Ryan didn’t do too well at his first day of school.
Alex: Did you stay with him?
Me: No, it’s not that type of school.
Alex: But you should have stayed with him.
Me: Well…I stayed for a few minutes, I thought he was ok (how in the world am I being put on the defensive by a 5-year old).
Alex: You should have stayed with him. He was scared.
Me: You know what, you’re right. I should have stayed. It was my mistake.
Alex: You should have stayed.
Me: Yeah, I KNOW!
At least someone is learning something at school.
Later in the day, I talk to Ryan about school. He relays to me again that school was “fun.”
And that’s the thing about two-year olds: everything is a success if you just look at it from their perspective.