A Child’s First Day of School

As a doting grandparent, I know what makes a child happy. Take them on a shopping spree and open the world before their eyes.

And so it was with a 6-year-old granddaughter who answers to Mazie Grace. I call her “A-Mazing Grace” after the Christian song that is still known after nearly 250 years.

We were being treated to a visit just before the start of school and wondered if there was anything she would need for her big day.

 A child steps off a school bus on the first day of school at Shaw Heights Elementary School on Shaw Air Force Base (Photo: Jensen Stidham)
A child steps off a school bus on the first day of school at Shaw Heights
Elementary School on Shaw Air Force Base (Photo: Jensen Stidham)

“How about some school supplies?” came the suggestion. “We could begin with a backpack and go from there.”

Well, a backpack would be a no-brainer, based on what’s available on the open market.  So what would it be? Elsa and her favorite characters from “Frozen” or something from “The Secret Life of Pets”?

Just as Mazie was contemplating her choice, another alternative entered the picture.  “Dora!” Mazie had found Dora who entranced her in the film “Finding Dora.”

I must tell you, picking out a diamond engagement ring appeared a lot easier than choosing a backpack. There was Mazie in the center aisle with three backpacks in hand, mulling over the possibilities.

After all, she was entering first grade and this was a decision of a lifetime. In my day, we were given a pencil box with an eraser and short 6-inch ruler. That was it!

It would be years later before I saved my allowance for a mechanical pencil. And if you were really special, a matching pen came with it.  Back then, ink was a classroom staple and good penmanship was emphasized.

Actually, we were graded in penmanship. If my handwriting had been anything like my doctor’s when he writes a prescription, I’d have received a failing grade.

Today’s kids have their own set of priorities and backpacks are the rage. It’s been this way for years and commercial giants are making a killing off them. They’re far more elaborate than the simple school bag I hoisted over my shoulder.

I thought we were done with our shopping when Mazie’s eyes settled upon a pencil set. These weren’t just any kind of pencils. These had glitter. And they came in an unsharpened 12 pack. Which meant you needed a pencil sharpener.

As we made our way through the aisles, other options began to appear. They included an ample supply of crayons, a set of colored pencils, a notebook, construction paper, one pack of erasers (those on the pencils weren’t good enough), child’s scissors, tape, and other essentials that didn’t appear to be important.

I remembered when our three children were preparing to make the quantum leap forward after their usual sojourn at nursery school and kindergarten. It marked their first step toward puberty.

The boys received a new wardrobe. We made the obligatory trips to the barber and made sure they had what it took to make the transition. Our daughter looked like a princess as she made her way to a new schoolhouse.

All three kids were within walking distance to school because it was located diagonally across from our home. My youngest son was incredibly shy and used recess time to make his way home.

“You have to be in school,” we mandated.

“Why can’t I learn at home watching Sesame Street?”

“Because that’s not the way this system works,” we tried explaining. “Otherwise, why build schoolhouses and hire teachers? Don’t you want to be nice to your new schoolteacher?”

Eventually, the kid caught on, but not without a struggle. Each grade carried its own challenges until one day, each child reached high school and prepared to graduate. Where did the time go?

With a 13-year age difference between our oldest and youngest, it seemed we were always going to PTA conferences and school activities. Being married to a schoolteacher certainly had its advantages. As much as they sometimes tried, the kids couldn’t pull the wool over anybody’s eyes.

We did not own a dog who had an appetite for homework; nor did we have a sickbed for anyone feigning illness.

By the time they reached the upper grades, the kids’ math homework baffled me. If you didn’t have a math degree from MIT, the syllabus made little sense. I was lost somewhere between third and fourth grade and relied on my children to assist one another.

I always thought of those primary school days as being pivotal in a child’s academic life. And now, I’m getting to do it all over again with six grandchildren. Will I see any of them graduate high school? That remains to be seen.

But back to the matter at hand: helping a child choose her very first backpack and school supplies.

With our shopping done, we returned home and she went to join her three siblings. A Facebook post the next day brought all four children together with their backpacks seated on the front porch for that classic first day of school photo.

My smile reflected a joyous grandparent. We cherish such moments with unadulterated

Tom Vartabedian

Tom Vartabedian

Tom Vartabedian is a retired journalist with the Haverhill Gazette, where he spent 40 years as an award-winning writer and photographer. He has volunteered his services for the past 46 years as a columnist and correspondent with the Armenian Weekly, where his pet project was the publication of a special issue of the AYF Olympics each September.
Tom Vartabedian

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