Like I Was Saying

First Day

I hope your kids’ first days were better than mine

I consider myself a moderate user of social media. Instead, I use much of my leisure time online checking sports box scores and digging into long reads I may have missed during the day. That is, unless it’s the first week of school.

It seems all the bickering and self-aggrandizing that fills most of our feeds takes a respite for a few days and is instead replaced by smiling children dressed in their Sunday-best outfits about to head to their first classes of the new semester. It’s a welcome break, and I get sucked into the ritual of my friends posting images of their kids holding signs marking the occasion. Those pictures inevitably garner dozens of likes and comments like, “I can’t believe how big she is!” As they should — the first day of school is important and, at least for me, a reminder of what can go wrong.

The first “first day” I truly remember was in third grade. I was in a new school in a new town and had no friends. My mother had handpicked the perfect outfit for her freckle-faced kid growing up in the 80s. I wore bright colors, pegged pants and my hair was filled with more product than any 8-year-old had any right to wear: red hair, gelled straight back with just a few bangs flopping forward.

I felt good about the look as I headed to Mrs. Burge’s classroom to make my grand entrance as the new kid on the block. Ironically, this was around the same time the band “New Kids on the Block” dropped its debut album and launched a 10-year trend of oddly dressed boy bands.

After introducing myself to my new teacher, she told me the unfortunate news. “We thought you were a girl,” she whispered. “So we gave you a pink cubbyhole.”

Cubbyholes back then were where you stashed your backpack and lunch and gossiped with you friends — basically, the office water cooler area for adults. And I was on the girls’ side because I had a girl’s name — there were far fewer Kellyns or Kellens in the ‘80s than there are now. This was a devastating blow to the entrance I had planned for my first day at my new school in my new outfit.

I sheepishly stored my stuff in the pink cubby emblazoned with my girl’s name and hurriedly grabbed a desk in the front row.

During the course of the morning, as the sun rose above the windows, Mrs. Burge asked if anyone would volunteer to open the metal blinds outside to let some light in. My hand was in the air before she finished the question. I would redeem myself somehow by helping my new teacher and showing the rest of the class what a great guy I was.

This made a bad morning worse. The blinds got stuck, and as I continued to yank on them it took a few seconds to realize what had just happened. I had swallowed the two dimes I had stored in my mouth that were supposed to be used for chocolate milk later in the day. When I realized that, I did what any 8-year-old would do: began screaming like a maniac.

The last thing I remember from that short-lived day of school was screaming, “I swallowed two dimes! I swallowed two dimes!” After my parents picked me up, I cried all the way to the hospital where an X-ray showed two dime-sized circles in my stomach. After such a bummer of a day, the doctor had the audacity to look at me and say, “I expected someone older.”

Well, I had expected a blue cubbyhole and everyone to like my hair. And that didn’t happen either. I hope your kids’ first days were better than mine.