Though I toss and turn, fret and worry over the first day of school, I still revel in the joy that the first day of school can bring. It's a time of self renewal and a chance to learn again.
Pencils are sharpened and desks are clean. The room is filled with the new crayon smell and, for now, there are no fingerprints on the silver paper towel dispenser.
The jitters began a week ago, and sleep will be elusive the night before, even after packing lunches and laying out the first day of school ensemble. The secret must be shared; teachers are just as excited and nervous as the kids for the first day back to school.
I remember as a child how my mother let us use sweet smelling glycerin soap at bath time for the first day of school. Fruity smelling shampoo with extra bubbles made me sure that I'd look and smell wonderful when I donned my new plaid dress, ankle socks, and Mary Janes.
The only thing I didn't count on way back when I was in first grade was how terrified I would become when it was time to march into Mrs. Owens's classroom with the other frightened 6-year-olds.
Mrs. Owens was a grandmotherly type who always wore polyester dresses and sensible shoes. She gave us a plain cardboard box full of letter squares with which we had to put together the week's spelling words every morning after reciting the Pledge of Allegiance and singing "My Country 'Tis of Thee."
We sat in rows, not groups, and were not expected to speak unless spoken to. Though she was kind, she was firm and I was a challenge in my ever-present episodes of school-phobic migraines.
Unlike school today, there were no guidance counselors. There was one psychologist who traveled to any school who required her services. She scared me to death. She came to visit with me every once in a while to help me overcome my fear of school.
I wasn't afraid of my teacher and I did quite well academically. To this day I can't figure out the cause of my rather violent episodes of migraines. Perhaps it was the fact that there were 45 children in my first grade class.
Mrs. Owens would walk up and down the rows checking our letter square spelling words. Sometimes, I would spell them wrong on purpose because I was tired of looking for the letter 'e' or 'a'. She nodded her head and moved on.
Maybe it was because the boy behind me had bloody noses almost every day. He left his blood stained tissues too close to the back of my chair. Or maybe it was recess where boys and girls were separated and Mrs. Nason ruled supreme. Whatever it was, I could not wait to go home each day to the comfort of my mother.
When a migraine found its way into my little head, I didn't dare tell Mrs. Owens, but waited until recess to tell Christine, my neighbor, who was in sixth grade. Motherly Christine would guide me gently to the principal's office and by that time, it was too late. Miss Ryan would scold, "Well, take her to the lavatory so she doesn't vomit here." I thought a lavatory was a place where naughty sick children were banished.
Fast forward to senior year in high school when I decided that I needed to be a teacher. I was lucky. I knew my calling. It didn't hurt as my husband often states, that I am perpetually 7, or 8, or 4. I remember and I empathize. I can crawl inside the minds of children who try to glue their classmate to a chair with a purple glue stick. I can sit on the floor to talk about why trading your best friend for a red Starburst might hurt someone's feelings.
I can call "Happy Monday" and really mean it, even if I do have an old childhood headache. Sometimes, cheerfulness is the best medicine.
So though I toss and turn, fret and worry over the first day of school, I still revel in the joy that the first day of school can bring. It's a time of self renewal and a chance to learn again.
And more than that, I hope that I can instill the love of school that so eluded me in the beginning. This juxtaposed feeling of dread vs. delight remains a constant. The "what ifs" plague me like they do the children in my charge.
And this is good.
Happy First Day to both teachers and students alike. Have a wonder filled year.
Kathy Kenney Marshall teaches at the McCarthy School in Framingham, Mass., and can be reached by e-mail at Kathykm@aol.com