Our Town: Room 2, Day 1

Publication Date: Wednesday Sep 8, 1999

Our Town: Room 2, Day 1

by Marc Igler

We stood at the end of the corridor and got ready to take that long walk.

Emily wore her new black dress, the one with flowers on it, and held her new purple lunch box. She tugged at her mom's hand, ready to navigate the obstacle course that lay ahead.

It was the first day of school at Fairmeadow Elementary. For Emily, it was the first day of kindergarten. A big day, no doubt. She'd been in preschool for the past two years, but this was the big time. A principal's office, recess, bathrooms down that long corridor. Maybe even a few bullies.

We were headed for Room 2. It was easy to spot, because it was the one with plants and flowers in front of the door. Just before we got there, we had to step around a mom kneeling down in front of her boy, their foreheads pressed together. It was hard to tell, but I think it was the mom who was getting a little emotional.

They had told us about this at the various mixers and ice cream socials we'd attended over the summer. It's an old school joke but a good one: Tears on the first day or first week of school are not uncommon. Don't worry. They will pass. Sometimes, even the children cry, too.

We got inside Room 2 and stood toward the rear. Emily wandered off. That seemed to be the pattern. The parents hung back, nervous and twitchy. We all stood in our own different ways. Some parents bobbed back and forth, shifting the weight from one leg to the other. Others were all coiled up, arms crossed, body rigid. A few walked around talking in a Pollyannish, sing-songy tone. Of course, there were also the parents who'd been through this passage before. They were holding up a lot better. You had to look close to see the jitters.

The kids, meanwhile, moved about like hungry loggers at the camp mess tent. They bounced from one side of the room to the other, checking out the games and the books and the mobiles and all the living creatures in cages that had to endure this onslaught at the end of every summer. The animals had to be even more on edge than us parents. A lot of the kids curiously eyed the loft, perched high above the floor and accessed by a wooden stairway. Even to me, it looked like a great fort.

Room 2 is like a treasure trove full of all sorts of things to catch a 5-year-old's fascination. As I understand, most of it has been collected over time by teacher Ginny Russell. She's taught kindergarten for 14 years and seems to gravitate toward life's oddities and cast-offs as part of the foundation for teaching kids. Snakeskins, turtle shells, old cans and lots of peculiar animals. Geckos, millipedes, a corn snake and, of course, rats. There were two rats, a girl named Daisy and a boy named Daffodil. Poor guy.

Russell didn't pay much attention to us parents. She'd patiently and politely answer questions, but we were clearly interlopers on a landscape not designed for us. Most of the time, Russell meandered through the classroom with aplomb, getting to know the kids and showing them things. She moved with the body language of someone who's been at this for quite a while. As the minutes passed and the parents continued to shift about, it became obvious how blissfully unaware most of the kids were to what was unfolding--that this was a bigger day for us than for them. For them, it was just new surroundings. For us, it was a day of wonder, of expectations, of uncertainty. The launching pad never felt so shaky.

It was getting late. Most of us had that look like we knew we were overstaying our welcome. Parents started hesitantly saying goodbye. Some got hugs. Others just got a wave. One parent forlornly said her child simply dismissed her with a "You can go. I'm fine." Both Jennifer and I got hugs--and a big smile--before Emily quickly moved off to peer in at the corn snake over in the corner.

We left Room 2 and started off down that long corridor. Thirty-three years ago, I went to kindergarten for the first time. I have no memory of that day. I'll remember this one.

Marc Igler is associate editor of the Weekly.

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