Intersections – A Lesson on the First Day
By Nicki Salcedo
I was worried when I walked into the daycare on the first day of school. I dreaded the workday away from my baby. I thought that my child couldn’t survive without me. That was eleven years ago.
My firstborn loved me and only me. If she was away from me, she would not take milk from a bottle. She wouldn’t eat unless I was there. I was her source of life, her lifeline. She would not cry herself to sleep. She would just cry and stay awake. Eventually, I put my baby into the hands of strangers. These strangers were her teachers.
She would cry, and the teachers would hold her. She would cry, and they would walk with her.
She would reject the bottle, and her teachers would spoon-feed her milk.
I didn’t think I could survive my daughter’s unhappiness. It wasn’t easy. I shed tears. I had doubts. I watched how her teachers worked, and I decided to do two things. Listen and learn to trust.
I would sit on the floor each morning and talk to her teachers. One of the teachers made homemade yogurt, her son wanted to be a doctor, and her favorite show was “Seinfeld.” She admonished me for my lack of makeup and my sensible shoes. She was bossy. Naturally, I listened.
One of the teachers had cared for my nephew when he was a baby. She worked quietly. She would rock the crying babies without saying much, but with a smile on her face. I learned to trust.
The more I spent time with her teachers, the happier my child became. One day going to school became a good thing for me and my daughter.
Eleven years have gone by since that first “First Day.” I thought it would get easier sending my kids off to school. It isn’t. It’s still hard even when they are old enough to walk to school alone and have their own phones. Maybe easier because there’s less crying. But I felt tears in my eyes on the first day school this year. I have become that mom. Crying over milk spilled eleven years ago.
After years of walking into the same daycare, I took a different path this week. I took my last baby into big school. The school with a real library and a cafeteria. I wanted to go back to the daycare, because I could sit on the floor and talk to the teachers. I spent eleven years learning about myself under the care of my kids’ teachers. There are little lessons that I have learned.
Crying is okay. If you are feeling stressed, take a walk. You don’t need a chair. Sitting on the floor is fine.
Big school will bring bigger lessons. When I meet new teachers, I tell them the strangest things. I love teachers. I wish I could thank them at the beginning of the school year.
I trust you. I’m here to work for you. I’m your student, too. When I say these things, I mean it in that Zen-existential-way, and also in the more practical I-will-sharpen-pencils-and-donate-my-time-way, if you need it. I can’t be the room parent or on any committees because parents scare me. The same way clowns scare you. I will do whatever I can to make your job easier. I do want you to teach, not discipline, but discipline by all means if you have to. As much as I wish they were, my kids aren’t cyborgs. I want to hear about Mesopotamia and the swamps of Tybee Island. Math and science jokes are my favorite. I don’t want my kids to burn down the house, but if they could burn a few authorized things in your lab under supervision that would be great. I never know the things that might interest them. Each year it changes. We look forward to the start of new things. We look forward to the adventure ahead. We will speak of you with fondness years from now. We will thank you at the end. I will try to remember the lessons you have taught all of us. Forgive my kids for growing older and me for growing up.
I do not like to hug, but I hug teachers. I try to steal their goodness, their love, their patience. I have seen parents walk into daycare and drop off their child without saying a single word to the teacher. I’ve seen parents corner a teacher at the meet-and-greet and talk about their child for fifteen minutes straight.
They forgot to ask you who was your favorite teacher when you were a kid. They forgot to ask you what you like to do for fun.
Teachers are the people who will comfort your child’s cries and teach them about the stars. You should respect them. You should know who they are. Talk to them and listen. Ask them about their lives. Trust them.
Thank you, teachers. For holding our hand on the first day and patting our backs on the last. I am still your student, too.
“Intersections,” the book, is a collection of columns from Decaturish.com and beyond. It is now available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Nicki Salcedo is a Decatur resident and Atlanta native. She is a novelist, blogger, and a working mom. Her column, Intersections, runs every Wednesday morning.