Back to school for the first time

A new school year means new routines, new friends…and new things for parents to worry about messing up.

As a grown-up in a “normal” job, my day rarely changes based on the time of year. Some days are cold, some are hot, but email waits for me regardless. For human children of school age, the seasons are much more dramatic.

The day after Labor Day, my six-year-old went “back to school” for the first time. By the time this is published, she will be finishing her second week of the first grade.

It’s odd how uneventful it seemed to me as a parent. In mid-June, we stopped taking her to school every day, and in early-September we started again. In adult time, three months is nothing. It went by in a flash. It may just be semantics, but as a kid, summer felt like a “vacation.” as an adult, it feels like just a “break.”

You prepare yourself for the kindergarten drop-off. Kindergarten is one of those big parenting unknowns where you steel yourself up for pretty much any possibility: Will my child be miserable?1 Will I have to carry her to school in tears?2 Can I go out the side door?3

With first grade, everything feels old hat to this grizzled elementary school veteran. This is exacerbated by my child going to the same class with the same teacher.4 I feel myself falling into very similar routines almost immediately. I am a creature of inertia; if there is a comfortable groove of least resistance, I will find myself in it.

I’m worried that I’m not properly acknowledging that first grade is a Big Deal™ for my kid. Her summer didn’t go by in a flash; it probably felt like an eternity to her. She may be coming back to the same classroom and the same teacher, but half of her class is now different kids. She is now one of the first graders, so more is expected of her–and she is busy figuring out what those expectations are. She’s not the exact same kid she was in June. Am I doing her a disservice by not adjusting myself to what she needs of me today?

Figuring out what she needs now is hard; it involves communicating with other humans. My wife, Kat, does most of the drop off and pick ups and gets the most direct information on how things are going. I’m trying to make sure we talk after the kids go to bed, but some nights I just end up eating chips.

Her teacher is great and would welcome any questions, but I want to make sure Kat and I always remain on the same page. I have definitely forgotten to tell my spouse about conversations I’ve had with our kid’s teacher–not out of malice, just forgetfulness. And when I do finally remember to tell Kat, I seem to have trouble relating exactly what the conversation was about. I would feel weird taking notes while talking to my child’s teacher, but maybe I should start.

At the dinner table I get snapshot, at best, of my daughter’s day at school (the idea of getting information out your kid being hard is a cliché for a reason). On good days, I get three to five random school moments that form the silhouette of her life. Combining that with what her mother found out, we can get an out-of-focus picture. From that, we have to figure out how to best help, if there is indeed something she needs help with.

Left to myself, I’d wrap myself in the daily routine like a security blanket and just let what happens happen. But I know myself, and that way only leads to an even harder hole to get out of. I need to build deliberate action into my routine or I will be ruled by inaction. Sometimes what my kid will need is for me to leave them alone and do nothing, but doing nothing feels so much better when it is a decision, not the default.

— ∮∮∮ —


  1. No. 
  2. A couple of times. 
  3. You can but they‘d really prefer that you didn’t. 
  4. She is in a K/1 class, where she has the same teacher for both kindergarten and first grade. 

Photo by: The Consortium

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Sam Davies

Sam Davies is the father of two daughters (ages five and eight) who lives in Northside Richmond. He and his wife Kat are trying their best to not raise sociopaths.

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