I would be a liar if I said I didn’t miss the excitement of the first day of school. I am not referring to the very first time my two-and-a-half-year-old stepped into playschool, and jauntily walked off, quite happy to see all the toddlers milling around, leaving a very teary-eyed me at the gate. I remember looking back every two steps as I walked back home, as if expecting to see his reproachfully sad face urging me to take him back home. As it happened, I was the only sad face around, much to my husband’s amusement.
I am referring to the glorious month of June each year, when a new academic year would begin. We would have started preparing a month before, sourcing the text books, then covering all the school books in brown paper and sticking the labels, and arguing over who should write the names.
Talking of labels, my folks still won’t let me forget about how I wrote my name on all of my son’s first grade notebooks, only realizing after I was done with the last one, when he pointed it out! Yeah, so I stuck another label on the existing ones and wrote his name.
This morning at 6.30 a.m., I sent my niece a message, wishing her a great year ahead. She promptly sent me her photo, all dressed and ready to leave for school. First day of seventh grade, after an eventful summer vacation, and back to the grind of school, extra-curricular classes, and oh, homework every day, followed by weekly /monthly /quarterly exams.
It took me back to my own first day in seventh grade.
We had just moved to a new city. My Mom had tried for admission into a particular school, but was unsuccessful. They promised a seat the following year. Not wanting to lose a year, she took the bright decision of enrolling me in the next best school. This school was quite far off and involved a bus ride and some walking. Almost everyone spoke the local language, Telugu, which I was yet to learn, and I recall feeling rather alien for a long time. Added to that, my uncle had accidentally filled out my second language as Tamil, instead of English and that brought its own woes. I did know the Tamil alphabet, but wasn’t ready to memorize and spout poetry. I did get there by the end of that year, though, thanks to my Mom and Grandma!
The seventh grade was significant for me, mainly because of the new city, and my first time in a house with a tiled roof. I was enchanted by the place. We had an interesting neighbor who taught me to move my ears without moving my head. Such an important life skill, eh?
I remember we were sort of hard up for cash at the time, and since notebooks were expensive, my uncle bought a roll of paper from one of the paper mills he had visited to inspect. He then laboriously cut it down to notebook size, sewed it with twine, and together, my Mom, he, and I drew lines in the 20 books he had made, because I needed ruled notebooks. My classmates teased me about the homemade books and while I felt a little bad about that at the time, I got over it quickly. It was also the year I learned the phrase “sunny disposition” — my teacher constantly told me I had one.
That year was also the start of some lifelong friendships–what a blessed feeling. Luckily, in the next academic year, I was able to get admission to the school of my Mom’s choice and I entered the hallowed portals of the school where I spent my eighth to tenth grade. To think that I am in touch with my classmates still, is like a giant warm hug.
Strangely, my school life from grade one to ten was split between five schools. Grade one to four, then five, then six, then seven and finally, eight to ten.
But no matter what, that first day of school was always exciting. I was raring to get back into the routine, even if I had an enjoyable summer spent with family and in travel with my Grandma.
. . . the smell of the new notebooks
. . . the joy of reading the English and language text books from cover to cover
. . . arguing over whether I really needed a new school uniform and accessories, were all fun. I was quite short in school, and my Mom, in her wisdom, always made three sets of uniforms, which I never grew out of.
. . . new shoes. Mom often commented that I ought to have shoes made of iron; I wore them out so quickly!
. . . the smell of that new raincoat–it always rained the day school reopened–how eagerly I looked forward to sloshing in the puddles on the way back home!
. . . the thrill of catching up with friends
Fast forward decades, and I had the pleasure of my son’s first day of school. I remember one particular year, when he “graduated” from grade two to three. We were planning to travel and thought it would be sensible to finish buying all that he needed for school, to avoid the rush when we returned. So, in the first week of May, just after school closed for vacation, we purchased his school shoes, uniforms, books and other stuff. The plan was to cover them all after we returned from the trip.
As it happened, we got busy with several things on our return, plus houseguests. Still, we were quite blasé, since we had everything ready. Three days before school, Mom suggested we do a dress rehearsal with my son. We wanted to get him back in the flow of his school routine, and told him to dress in ten minutes. He ceremoniously drew the curtain and disappeared into the room. Two minutes later, he hollers, saying he can’t fit into the uniform. Pretty sure he was fooling us, we peeked in and were stunned to see that he was indeed right. Imagine our shock! I confess I panicked just a little even as my Mom burst out laughing, and said, hey, better check those shoes! Sure enough, the shoes didn’t fit either.
So much for our advance prep. We quickly decided to go shopping again, hoping we could exchange the uniform and shoes for the right size. We were able to exchange the shoes–so kind of the shop to let us, their only condition being that we present the bill, which we did, but the shop where we bought the uniforms refused to exchange them, and so we ended up buying new sets of uniforms. What a hilarious experience!
If you’re wondering what we did with the smaller uniforms, I put them away in the cupboard and sort of forgot about them. Months later, my son suggested gifting the uniform to a couple of kids in his school on his birthday, and we felt so proud of him.
As I wait today to hear about how my niece’s day went, just as I’ll wait to hear from my son when he returns to college next month, all these memories come flooding in.
I almost feel like I am sitting in a rocking chair like Mrs. Havisham, reminiscing–my own school days seem so long ago.
And life goes on.