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Starting School

 Credit: UA Archives - Upper Arlington Public Library (Repository: UA Historical Society)

“Can you believe our firstborn is starting school?” My wife asked me this question a few days ago, her eyes going wide as she said it, and it ridiculously enough took me completely by surprise.


My son is about to start Begindergarten, which is a cute way of saying an “Early Fives” class. He is going to attend it in an elementary and he will be there all day just like all of the bigger kids, using their same cafeteria and their playground (not at the same time, of course). My wife and I were so focused on getting him into the right school in our area for the last eight months that I didn’t realize until recently how much this change meant for all of us in our little family and for him.


This was about to be something new…

 

In preparation of this first day over the weekend we drove him to his new school and allowed him to play in the playground for about an hour. While he loved playing in the playground (trying everything he could), I kept noticing things, my parental eye kicking in.

  • Who was it that left these empty beer cans here on the playset? Will these people who would drink at a kids’ playground be around the school? Heaven forbid, or will they actually be attending?
  • Why are there so many weeds?
  • And are those soccer nets going to be fixed?
  • Is that rust?


Yes, while this playground is better than anything I had growing up (and this is a great school district), I still was catching everything I possibly could. This could be a super power of mine. A lame super power, but still a power. You can call me “Protective Dad.” And I am here to shake my head and wag my finger at others! Irresponsible people of the world be warned! Protective Dad is among you now!

 

But my son… I don’t know whether to be impressed that he is not terrified like me or to think he is amazing at possibly hiding it from me. He seems to have absolutely and utterly no fear. Isn’t he nervous about making new friends (friends that might stick with him for his entire life)? Being around all those bigger kids? Going to a new place? I wouldn’t dare ask him those questions out loud, worried they might affect his thoughts, but they’ve run through my mind ever since my wife asked me that earthquaking question.


To be Charlie Brown or not to be Charlie Brown…


I always had this fear that when I had a son someday he would be Charlie Brown.


Charlie Brown is a good kid stuck in a cruel world, surrounded by supposed friends who have no problem using him at one moment (“Direct our Christmas show!”) and then calling him a name and laughing the next (“What a blockhead!”). And throughout all of the meanness, every year (for fifty years) Charlie Brown is a good guy, probably the nicest in the creation of Schulz; making you almost wonder if he is stupidly naïve to the neighborhood around him, or if Schulz is trying to say something about people like him and I’m just not catching on to it. Seriously, I can’t even remember a time Charlie was mean to another character (besides the random yelling at Lucy during a baseball game) and I have read almost every strip.


Charlie Brown is almost dangerously innocent.


The fact is my son is not Charlie Brown. He was always popular at his day care, worried about other’s feelings (kids and teachers both cried over his leaving), and has a sense of humor. Seriously, he loves to make different voices, almost making me wonder from time to time how often I have heard his actual real voice.


Becoming a dad…


I always loved the idea of becoming a parent; and during the first few years of my marriage I was the member of the partnership, much to my wife’s slight annoyance, who was always asking when. “Now? Are we going to try for kids now?” Definitely not a fair thing to bother a person with while they are working their way through graduate school or starting a new job! If anything I was guilty of romanticizing the idea of parenthood, not registering the actual truth of what the job entails once it begins.


When we finally did get pregnant, I had to be almost held back from declaring it from the rooftop, sing it from Facebook to Twitter. The concept that my son was on his way took over all of my waking thoughts, and I did everything but wear a shirt shouting I was about to be a dad, as if we had done something entirely new. An accomplishment of epic proportions!


I even read to my son when he was in utero, working my way through the first entire book of Harry Potter and half of the second. I had voices for all of the characters, much to the chagrin of my wife. My Hermione voice annoyed her but I thought my Hagrid was brilliant.


When my son emerged into the world, frankly, I wasn’t prepared for it. While I had attended birthing classes with my wife, read books on raising children (we had a nice collection, purchased by us or given to us; which always made me wonder initially if those givers thought we would need help), watched videos. I even practiced putting diapers on a stuffed toy! Trust me, I was ready for everything… just not this new overwhelming feeling of responsibility.


This baby is my son.


Seeing reality in a new light…


While before the news would slip passed me—I have always enjoyed NPR but it still existed in something akin to an audiobook I was listening to then—but now with my son everything became more real. Wars were in my world (a plane trip away), random shootings because guns are so prevalent in our society could happen everywhere and did, and every horrific story about children from around the world seemed to now star kids that bore a striking resemblence to my son. I almost considered turning off the news, avoiding every bad story (hands over my ears shouting “Na na na na na!”), but I have creativity, and honestly my brain could make it all up without the radio’s help.


We have three wild boys living next door to us. They never seem to wear shirts, looking like something out of a movie about the deep south (only missing a jug with a cork in it and a banjo), and they always seem to have something broken, bruises, or are shouting at each other about something. My most vivid memory of their arrival next door is of seeing their youngest for the first time; he was peeing on their porch. We have even caught them running on our garage roof.


Is my son going to be surrounded by kids like this? Are young boys like this going to be convincing my young son to play with fire and light large fireworks like we caught them doing one night, passed any reasonable person’s sensible idea of late in attire that looked very flamable?


Meeting him again and again…


When my son was born two things happened to me that first moment I heard his cry and saw his little round face. The first is a realization that that is my boy (Simple of me, I know, but in that instant he went from a daydream to reality). The second is one that has haunted me since and even led to me losing sleep and affecting all of my dreams (the one I mentioned earlier): responsibility.


I am responsible for this brand new human soul, and I would hold him during those early days overwhelmed by how awesome a responsibility it is. What I do and how I handle myself around him could affect his entire life and that is true for every day I am a parent.


Every single day.


Why more parents aren’t overwhelmed by this thought is beyond me…


But now, at this school, I’m not right around the corner, ready to grab and hug him with each fall. He is a student now, on his own, and I need to put my trust in others to think of my son while he is there. I am putting my trust in his teachers, the other students, those students’ parents, and, for the first time, in him. Trust has never felt like such a big word until now, since this almost five-year old in front of me, in my mind, is still that little baby I held for the first time calming him immediately with the sound of my voice.


Yes, I keep going back to that first day, when I first heard his cry and soothed him for the first time, repeating like a mantra: “It’s okay… you’ll be okay, I got you.” I am certain I will think it the entire moment I walk him into the new school, remembering that moment and those words, surrounded by all of the other kids and parents, my hand tightly gripping his. “You’ll be safe. I got you… I got you.”

 

Most recently, Scott D. Southard is the author of MEGAN and MY PROBLEM WITH DOORS, both can be found on amazon.com here and from Google ebooks here. He can also be followed via Twitter (@SDSouthard) and his personal blog.