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The First Day of School

Every year I am a little bit sad on that first day as my children go off to a new year

I’ve always had issues with the first day of school. Who didn’t? There’s a reason Labor Day — traditionally the last day of summer vacation — has that moniker. The day ends with a triumphant call: “Let the labor begin!

And yet, for all of the (perceived?) anguish that day has brought me over the years, there is surprisingly little residual trauma. Though it seems I’ve tried to block the memory of first-days-of-school from my conscious mind, a few stand out with ridiculously inconsequential details.

First day of school, September 1994. I don’t recall being nervous at all. I definitely woke up early, but I can’t remember if there were butterflies, jitters, or any other first-day-of-school anxieties.

I admit that it’s a bit odd that I remember what I wore, even now, 21 years later. It was a two-piece, pink-and-white checkered outfit. (Quit smirking; this was the ’90s! It was a lovely outfit, thank you very much.) Travel Buff Silk Reflections, Harve Benard beige pumps with the stacked heel from Loehmann’s.

This was not merely any first day of school. I went into the previous 16 first-days-of-school as a student. This would be the first “first day” that I was the teacher.

Then there’s the memory of first day of first grade, 14 years earlier. I felt like a million bucks. Having two older sisters in the school sort of made me a hero.

There were two new girls that year. Aviva had a hyphenated last name, which fascinated me to no end. I made a mental note to ask her about this — after I got to know her, of course. Rachelli was also new, and she was simply a disaster. She clung desperately to her poor mother who was unable to extract herself from the room, a fact I tease her about until today.

Second and third grade are nonexistent, but fourth grade has a blurry recollection of standing in the front yard, learning that we’d have the almighty Morah S., whose “morah stare” sent shivers up everyone’s spines. I remember nothing from that day other than that stare.

Then I’m blank until seventh grade. I remember my incredible new loafers, and that our bus arrived after the classes had already gone up to the classrooms. I went to find out where my class was, and I can still feel the horror of being handed a class list and learning that the grade had been shuffled and my best friend wasn’t in my class.

And that’s all, folks. I cannot recall any other first days; not as a student, not as a teacher. What I do know, though, with no fuzziness about it, is that I never, ever looked forward to that first day of school.


Last week my high-school-aged daughters were bemoaning the fact that summer was ending and school was beginning. I felt sorry for them. School is pressured, and they feel choked.

“I’m so not looking forward!” the middle one sighed.

My 12-year-old reached for a drink and shrugged. “Really? I can’t wait for school to start!”

Without missing a beat her eldest sister responded, “Sure, that’s because you go to Bnos Yaakov. Of course you’re excited for school… who wouldn’t be?”

“Yeah, I guess that’s true,” she acknowledged. They all nodded in agreement.

I watched this exchange with interest. Is that how my daughters felt about their elementary school?

This is the school whose students feel they are in camp, though the rest of the town rails about how academically pressured and rigorous our school’s curriculum is. The school whose principal, a chashuve melumedes, a grandmother and wife of a tremendous talmid chacham, leaps on stage every Rosh Chodesh as if she’s in a high school production, making herself hoarse while keeping her talmidos spellbound with stories and performances of ahavas Hashem and ahavas Yisrael. The school whose graduates come out with so many yedios and so much havanah — but even more so with the strongest knowledge that Hashem loves them “more and more than we can ever imagine!

This is the school whose students can’t wait for the first day.

Every year I am a little bit sad on that first day as my children go off to a new year. For ten weeks they are so free; they play and play and play, spreading their wings and tasting the unburdened flexibility of summer. Then comes the school year, where the rigidity and structure can be so confining. Ten months is a long time for a child.

But this year I think I may watch them go — at least the younger set — with a lighter heart. After all, if they are looking forward to their first day of school, well then, so am I.


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 456)

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