Raising Richmond: Keep on ticking

How a sweet memory from my first day of school will help my son get through his.

I don’t remember a whole lot about my first year of school. Not surprising, I suppose, as it was almost thirty years ago.1

I remember how my teacher, Mrs. Burnette, would sometimes put a little treat on the corner of your blanket if you fell asleep during rest time.

I remember sitting at the Circle Table at some point.

I remember that I met Brittany Giddings and Jeanne-Marie DeStefano that year.2

I remember having a fire drill in the middle of center time one day. I’d been playing dress up in the house area and didn’t have time to change out of the adult-sized high heels I had on. So I had to just clomp along outside with my class until the bell beckoned us back into the building.3

I remember loving the rice table.

That’s…really about it.

My first day of school, on the other hand? That stuck with me–at least part of it did.

— ∮∮∮ —

I’ve never been big on change. New situations (especially those that come with a heavy dose of anticipation) stress me out; they always have and probably always will. It’s just how I’m wired, I guess. So you can imagine that starting kindergarten–in a new place with new people–had four-year-old Valerie pretty wigged out.

Yes, I was one of “The Criers.”4

Even now as I write this, I feel that same pit in my stomach that was there that day in September 1986. I remember standing in the doorway of Mrs. Burnette’s class with tears (and probably snot) leaking out of my face and thinking, “I want my Mama. I don’t want to do this.”

But I did do it. Because of a watch.

At some point in the surely-chaotic shuffle of getting my older brother, my older sister, and me off to the school that first day, my mom slipped her watch onto my wrist. No big production, no lecture about being careful, no promises of punishment if I lost it. Suddenly it was just there–a little reminder that even though she couldn’t be with me on such a big (and scary) day I could still be sure of her.5

I can still feel the weight of it on my arm as I hung up my backpack in my cubby. I remember tracing its face with my finger, fiddling with the clasp, probably not paying attention to anything going on around me…but also not crying anymore.

— ∮∮∮ —

Our son, JR, starts pre-kindergarten next week–a full day program, Monday through Friday, just like regular school. Because I am who I am, I fully expected to have a hard time with this transition. However, even though JR is basically a shorter, louder, more LEGO-obsessed, and male version of me, for some reason I didn’t anticipate how hard this transition would be for him.

When we first told JR about going to pre-K he was stoked: big kid school! new friends! a better playground! But that was back when leaving his current school was still a pretty abstract concept. Now that the reality of facing bigger, better, and totally unknown things is upon us, JR is, well, pretty wigged out. In fact, it’s safe to say that the last few weeks have been some of the most challenging I’ve had with him since he was born. Daycare drop-offs, which were total non-events for over two years, now involve lots of tears. He’s turned both the clinginess and the attitude up to 11, which means he spends much of the day demanding that I never leave him while simultaneously leaving him alone. Meanwhile, bedtime has become a total shit show.

Change is coming. He knows it, he does not like it, and he can’t help but show it.

Part of me clings to the possibility that because JR’s spent so much time and energy “processing” this change over the last month or so that The Big Day will actually be No Big Deal. But I’m not kidding myself. I expect tears–and I need to be OK with tears. He’s allowed to feel this way. He’s allowed to be one of “The Criers.”

Last week, during one particularly weepy drop-off, I asked JR’s daycare teacher what we could do to help him work through this transition–was there anything we could do to make him less nervous?

“You know him,” she said, expertly shifting my sniffling little boy from my arms to hers. “You’ve just got to let him feel it.”6

She’s right of course. All my husband and I can do right now is be excited for JR, be positive about this new phase in his life, and show him a little extra grace as he finds his way.

But I hope strapping this little number on his wrist next Monday morning will help.7

Based on my personal experience, I think it will.

— ∮∮∮ —


  1. Let the record show, I started school age at four. For some reason, I feel this is important, so give me that because OMG 30 WHAT? 
  2. Both of whom I stayed friendly with all the way through high school, so I still have a warm spot in my heart for those ladies. 
  3. For a shy child terrified of anyone looking at her ever, this was basically a nightmare come true. 
  4. Not to be confused with “The Clingers” or “The Screamers.” I’m pretty sure I just stood off to the side and whimpered for a good long while. 
  5. Is there any better exchange in all of literature that better illustrates the parent-small child dynamic? No, there is not. 
  6. How amazing is it when someone really gets your kid. Miss Heather, we love you! 
  7. Mrs. Lee, I apologize in advance for the Velcro strap, but a mama’s gotta do what a mama’s gotta do. 
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Valerie Catrow

Valerie Catrow is editor of RVAFamily, mother to a mop-topped first grader, and always really excited to go to bed.

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