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The First Day

I’d taken many of my children to their first day of first grade. But today was different


As evening approached, I felt myself getting increasingly nervous. The hours were passing, bedtime was approaching, and I knew I would barely sleep that night.

Tomorrow was the first day of school and we were going into first grade. The new backpack was ready. The pencil case was waiting with markers, crayons, scissors, and pencils sharpened perfectly, each item labeled with a neat little nametag so that they wouldn’t get misplaced in the jumble of first grade.

This was a big jump and I knew it. No more games and toys, no more comfortable little couch at the side of the room to rest on when tired. First grade meant desks and books and teachers and a blackboard. Where, when someone wanted to talk, he needed to raise his hand, and where the bathroom was located at the end of a long hall of classrooms filled with big boys who went there by themselves. And where the smiling gannenet wasn’t there to hold the boys’ hands when they were scared.

Tomorrow, my seven-year-old Shlomo was going to start first grade. This was not my first “first day”; I’d taken many of my children to their first day of first grade. But today was different.

Today was my Shlomo’s turn, and like so many other seemingly normal experiences that every child experiences as he moves through childhood, with this child it wasn’t so normal. Much as we tried to help him grow and learn, the older he got, the more we realized that nothing was simple. His significant learning disabilities and anxieties made transitions such as this a nightmare.

After long and hard deliberation, we decided to send him to a special ed program. It had been a journey of trying and hoping and praying, and trying and praying some more. Of running to therapists, to doctors, and professionals, until finally hearing the joyful news that there was a place that would take my Shlomo as he was, and hopefully help him learn and grow.

Still, it was frightening for me, his mother. I was uncertain about all the changes waiting to happen tomorrow, Rosh Chodesh Elul, a time of new beginnings. I tried to put my worries aside and relax. I mentally reviewed the summer that was almost coming to a close.

It had been lovely and crazy, with ups and downs that are inevitable when sharing one’s space and life with a large family. My favorite moment was at a park in Haifa overlooking the ocean. My husband took the kids down closer to the water while I stayed behind on the observatory with the baby.

It was just past sunset, and I stood there watching the sky begin to deepen and darken. As night settled, the ocean was awesomely beautiful — the blackness giving it an almost mysterious power. I strained my eyes to see my children as I listened to the ocean’s forceful movements. Forward and back. And forward and back yet again. The waves were seemingly predictable, but were pulled by the wind and the moon whose patterns I neither knew nor understood. The ocean’s magnetic pull drew me to stare again and again at the mysterious waves, rich with layers of life hidden inside; at times beautiful and at times immensely frightening.

I finished reminiscing and finished my nighttime routine, the image of the ocean still soothing me. It was vast and deep and unknown — as were my struggles with Shlomo — yet still beautiful.

(Excerpted from Family First, Issue 657)

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