From Sulks and Sadness to Sushi and Smiles: Ben and Molly’s First Day of School

Today was the big day – back to school for Ben and Molly!

Back to school collage

Photo Collage: Ben on porch with Molly in background, Daddy and Ben hugs, and Molly at sushi. Caption reads “From Sulks + Sadness to Sushi + Smiles – Team Pickles is Back to School”

This summer has *figuratively* flown by. As anyone who knows me can attest, I was never cut out to be a full-time stay-at-home mom. The work-at-home/half-time school balance that I have going on with Ben and Molly works perfectly for me. Summers can throw that routine off but this summer was a really good one; we crammed in lots of fun activities but also kept up a fairly workable routine of daycamp and me trying desperately to get all my work done while also rehearsing and performing two plays (but more on that in another post).

As you may have noticed (or, you know, actually more likely not because you were also off enjoying your fantastic summers that also figuratively flew by!) I haven’t posted very much this summer, so you can look forward to some summer recap and catch-up posts over the next couple of weeks!

As I mentioned a few posts ago, Ben has a big transition this year, leaving his beloved Montessori school for Grade One French Immersion, all day, every day, and with a school bus ride to boot. Molly also has changes in store, moving up to the Casa classroom and going from four mornings a week to five. There are a few other kids at the school that Ben knows from Montessori and other places, but none in his class and none that he knows very well.

My anxiety around Ben’s new school has been through the roof – most likely because I’ve been projecting my own less than blissful elementary school experience onto him. It’s not that I have particularly horrible memories but I also don’t have particularly happy shiny ones. Mostly I remember a lot of being bored and not having any really close friends (I did have a camp best friend but she lived 4 hours away so we couldn’t do much in the way of playdates).

I vividly remember my dad bringing me to visit my senior kindergarten classroom before the beginning of the school year and forever alienating the teacher, Mrs. Lambursky, by scanning the classroom and then asking in a disgusted tone, “But where’s the Science Table???” My parents tried to make it up to her at Christmas with a lovely gift of sheep-themed oven mitts (lamb –> Lambursky –> get it? See, I come by it honestly) but it didn’t seem to do the trick.

The grade two memory that stands out most is two of us being sent to the principal’s office and interrogated and accused of stealing our seatmate’s fruit roll-up, which she later found buried in her desk. There was never any apology and the injustice still stings.

I had a love/hate relationship with grade three. One the one hand, my teacher, Miss Methven, was wonderful and kept a stash of small prizes in her desk that we could earn through academic achievement and good behaviour. One the other hand, whenever she left the room, a girl named Jerky McJerkhead* would stand on a chair and lead a popularity contest (of a sort): “Put up your hand if you hate Karyn! Everyone who hates Karyn, put up your hand!!” Not just me, of course. That would have been cruel. She had a list of favourite targets and worked her way through in rotation.

Grade four was great, in large part because I went to a new school – so I have to admit, there is something to be said for a change of scene! Twenty-four of us unsuspecting 9 year-olds were bused away to form a full-time gifted classroom across town (6 girls and 18 boys, which has always raised questions for me about gender-bias either in the gifted testing itself or parents’ decision-making around the school change). We had an amazing teacher, Mr. Keay, and were a very close-knit class. I bonded with a girl named Nicole over our mutual love of card games and we played Crazy 8’s constantly…on the bus, on the playground, in our desks until Mr. Keay figured it out and moved us across the room from each other (le sigh).

Grade 4 class karyn

My grade 4 class picture. Can you pick me out?

After that was yet another transition, this time to the all-girls school I attended until graduation and where over time I made many very close friends and had…well…good and bad experiences, endeared myself to some staff members and alienated others, received a fine education that was probably worth every penny, and learned the most effective ways to make your kilt seem long enough and your shirt appear to be tucked in when neither actually is.

Like I said…the majority of my anxiety about Ben’s first day is wrapped up in my own experience, so I’ve been working reeeeeallly hard to keep it from impacting him.

Ben has been really excited about his new school, especially after we visited in the spring, met the principal, and had a tour. He confessed to me a few days ago, “Mommy, I’m excited about my new school, but I’m also a little nervous about meeting all those new people. Sometimes when I do something like that I get a little…shy.” I did the only thing a reasonable parent could do of course and cancelled his registration and vowed to homeschool him through to his graduate degree pulled myself together and assured him that everyone feels like that and lots of his new friends will be feeling shy too, even the ones who have been at that school who are going to a new classroom with a new teacher.

Of course, before setting foot in his new classroom, he still needed to be outfitted with school supplies. After The Conversation about backpacks, peer pressure, and bullying, Ben gave the backpack question a lot of consideration. We looked at all of his options online and in stores and in the end he went with:

School supplies

Ben’s new Thomas backpack (with suitcase wheels!) and school supplies

Thomas, of course! Let it never be said that Ben is boy who doesn’t know what he wants.

He had also considered Dr. Seuss as a backpack option but we weren’t able to find it, so I offered to make him a marker roll out of Dr. Seuss fabric (let me know if you’re interested and I will post a tutorial about that). I asked him if he would like a different fabric inside where it wouldn’t show as much and he inspected my fabrics carefully and said, “Princesses. Because I like princesses, and it’s now or never.”

Fabric

Ben’s fabric choices for his marker roll: Dr. Seuss on the outside, princesses on the inside.

Ian, also the veteran of many childhood moves and therefore many school transitions, planned the ultimate back-to-school day for everyone: He took the day off work, bought back-to-school gifts for the kids, booked me a pedicure (and himself a bucket of balls at the driving range), and told Ben that dinner was his choice (“PIZZA!!!!”).

The morning drop-offs started with Molly to Montessori, grumpy, but quick to cheer up when she saw her friends.

Molly and Jade

Molly and her friend Jade ham it up for the camera

Next up was Ben to his new school, where the principal made his day by recognizing him: “It’s Ben Pickles!!” but unfortunately then he was thrown off when he learned that we were supposed to drop him off outside instead of at his classroom door like he had imagined. Honestly, I’m surprised he held it together as long as he did and had expected that something would cause his calm veneer to crumble.

Daddy hugs

Sad cuddles with daddy

Daddy cuddles helped a lot but in the end it was his principal’s offer to let us go in with him that did the trick. Once we brought him in, he changed into his indoor shoes and then with a nervous smile and wave was ready to start his new life as a primary school student.

On porch

Grinning Ben on the porch ready to go with grumpy Molly in the background

After that, Ian dropped me off for 90 minutes of bliss at the spa while he hit some balls and then we headed back for Molly’s pick up time. Although the only thing she would say in response to questions about what she did was a cheerful, “I don’t know!” we gathered that she had had a good morning. Over a sushi lunch and manicures she opened up a little more, telling me that they had sung songs about “butts” that went “Poop. Poop poop poop poop.” I may have to organize a parent-teacher interview…

Sushi lunch

Molly enjoying a bowl of miso soup

Finally, the moment of truth: We returned to Ben’s school for the pick-up. We hardly recognized the cheerful, confident 6 year-old who marched out the door bursting with stories about his day. The highlights, it seems, were the special “teacher introducement” in the gym and the fact that the playground possesses not one but TWO particularly slippery fireman’s poles.

Into every life, though, a little rain must fall, and there was one sour note – When Ian asked if anyone said anything about his Thomas backpack, Ben’s response was an utterly indignant, “They took NO interest AT ALL!”

Oh well. C’est la vie.

~ karyn

*Names have been changed.

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