Off He Goes

Editor’s Note:   This was originally published in September 2008.

When I was five years old, my family resided on the Mean Streets of Everett, MA. At the time, I was enrolled in Kindergarten at the Hamilton Elementary School – a brick and mortar classroom that sat sentinel at the base of a large hill that stood between my home and the school’s foundation. There were multiple ways to get to school on foot but each involved journeying across several blocks of urban cityscape before arriving at that final destination – a foolhardy pursuit for even the toughest mofo. In those days, the swan song of the late 70’s, mankind hadn’t perfected the fine art of “Sue Everyone” so the school systems found themselves benefit of the litigious illiterate and etched a firm mandate – if you didn’t live 5 miles beyond the city limits, then you weren’t getting a bus. So I, like many of my peers, found myself getting walked to and from school with the companionship of my Mom.

Now, the details of my travails to and from that school are hazy and lost in the ether of time. I’m 36 years old so we’re talking 31 years of wine, women and song have done their best to rid my neural nest of anything but the most traumatic of childhood memories. Who’s to say what’s real and what’s imagined? That said, I do have a couple images that were potent enough to sew themselves to the mental tapestry and for all I know, I’ll keep them to my dying day. This one looms large.

My Mom lives to tell this story.

One crisp autumn day – shortly after depositing me off at school for another course of brain expansion – she returned alongside my younger sister Jenna to our portion of a 2-family duplex and began running through her daily chores. It was a bright, sunny October morn punctuated with the first wisps of Fall chill. The perfect day to throw open the windows and invite the cool breeze in. As she was pushing a broom or mop and pining for the day when some genius would invent the Swiffer, an alien visage caught her eye. Just at the edge of her peripheral vision, she caught a familiar tuft of hair bounding up and down past the nearest open window. As any Mom will tell you, all they need to spy is 1% of their child’s real estate and they could pick their kid from a line-up. She spotted a sliver of cabeza and knew instantly that her beloved son – her first born – was waltzing by the window when he should be romping at recess.

In a panic she threw open the shutters to see what was the matter. And there I stood, startled, but beaming. For I had picked a FINE day for a little skedaddle. Of course, it wasn’t the truancy that had thrown her into a tizzy but the fact that I had somehow ducked, dodged and wailed my way through one mile of burned out cars and automatic fire with nary a scratch on me. (You can debate the facts of this story with me but bear in mind that I’m recounting this from a frantic Mom’s perspective where a broken down VW suddenly becomes a flaming APC carrier. Were I to offer up my own observations of the day, what we lost in scorched vehicles, we’d gain in velociraptors).

All hyperbole aside, it was a rather impressive feat. I simply grew tired of the long school day (if it was Kindergarten in the late 70’s then my guess is once you subtracted the recess, play time and naps – I was probably in there for a healthy seven minutes of hardcore learning). So, having had my fill of the teacher’s rote alphabet lessons (please – I had passed that at the age of 3 and was now learning how to read from TV Guide – “This week, Potsie and the Gang fall prey to the wicked… (Momma – What’s this word?) Malachi… Brothers.”) – anyway, I decided to call it an early day and simply walked out of the school and headed home. Having run this route so many times before, I knew exactly how to get home and simply proceeded on my way through this blighted urban renewal applicant, eventually making my way home – safe and sound.

And it was on that day, that the much coveted ‘prisoner ankle bracelet’ was invented – taking the trailer parks by storm and changing the history of Rhode Island demographics forever.

All this rambling preamble actually has a point. (Apparently, the boy who once upon a time found his beeline home is now easily distracted and led astray – whatever you do, don’t show me anything shiny when I’m talking). There I go again. All right, back on track.

As I write this, we are 13 days removed from my son Colin’s first steps on his K-12 education. While he attended preschool over the last two years, September 2nd marked his first day in the Bigs as he received the call-up in Preschool and made his way to the Major Leagues. From what I understand, the moment your child darkens the doorway of Kindergarten, your life enters the slipstream, propelling you thirteen years into the future in the blink of an eye. I expect that trademark Lost whoosh to kick in any moment now as I awaken from the flashback of writing this all down. What will the future hold? Oh my God, tell me I still have hair!!!

Anyway, even though Colin has already gone through some schooling, that first day of Kindergarten just seemed so different. Those first few days of your child’s life seem to tick off with agonizing slowness – as each rotation of the minute hand arcs ever-so-slowly around the clock underscoring just how many minutes of vital, life-sustaining sleep you are losing with every waking moment – which is to say EVERY MOMENT. Then something happens in the spell between Year One and Two where those little personalities begin to push from the egg and you really start to believe that you had a hand in creating a real honest-to-goodness person. And the knowledge that you were granted such great power and responsibility and you really went to town in doing the job right – in bringing forth another life to enrich the world – that knowledge can bring the strongest of us to our knees.

I have total recall over every second of those first few days after Colin was born. I remember one early morning, ‘round 4:30 a.m., when Andi and I had been awake for about 36 hours straight, I scooped him up, put him in his car seat and took him on an early morning road trip to allow his Mom an hour or two of peaceful, relaxing sleep. The car did wonders to quiet his boisterous soul so I figured at least 2 out of 3 would start the day a little bit bright-eyed. I quickly etched a plan that each morning, I would rise around this time and take Colin to a different Massachusetts scenic location. Once there, I would take a picture of him in his car seat in front of the landmark and some day, could assemble all the pics and stories into a helluva’ embarrassing scrapbook (yeah – I’d throw some bath pics in there just to really tease his prom dates).

Anyway, for our maiden voyage I decided to bring him to the exact spot where it all began for us New Englanders – Plymouth Rock. At the time, we were living in our quaint Cape in Brockton, MA so the ride to Plymouth would be completed just around the time the sun began to crest the horizon. We could stop, take a few pics, grab some coffee and then return home – giving Andi a solid 2 hours of shut-eye.

Everything went according to plan. I hit the back roads, winding my way from Rt 106 to Rt 58 – through East Bridgewater, Halifax, Kingston and eventually Plymouth. Around the time we arrived (5:30-ish), the streets were beginning to unroll and a few early risers were making their way towards the start of a new day. We had enough morning light (the best light) to illuminate the shots and then Colin and I did a little sight-seeing before deciding the time was right to begin our trek homeward bound.

When he and I returned to the car, I noticed my cell phone was dark. I had forgotten to turn it on in the rush to get out quickly before further disturbing Andi. I quickly remedied that and was immediately greeted with a dire announcement.

“YOU HAVE 17 VOICEMAILS”

With much trepidation, I keyed in the Passcode for my messages.

Message 1: A sleepy voice – “Hey, It’s Me. I’m just wondering where are…”

Message 2: “Sorry, I fell asleep there. Anyway, I was just wondering where you guys are. Call home.”

Message 6: “I’m not too worried. Just wondering where you are. When you get this, call me.”

Message 13: “OK I’m trying to stay calm but I’m a little nervous here. Where are you guys? CALL ME!!!”

Message 17: “WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO MY SON, YOU STUPID MUTHAF…” (…and then I dropped the phone. I’m not really sure how that last one ended).

The best intentions, right? Here I thought I could grant Andi a little pardon but like the best Moms do – she keyed in on her beloved little boy, ever willing to sacrifice her sanity for his life. Sleep would come some day.

And of course it did. And then we slipped into the freeways of ever-changing routines. Playtime evolved into playgroups which eventually begat preschool and in the blink of an eye, we followed the evolutionary ladder to the dawn of a new era – Kindergarten – with his 3 year-old sister Aria waiting in the wings and wishing she were stepping in Colin’s shoes right now.

It’s a cliché but like the best of them – completely true. Time flies, baby.

Just yesterday I had my wife scouring every gas station, residence, warehouse, farmhouse, henhouse, outhouse and doghouse in the area looking for her fugitive husband and child and now we willingly give him up to the school system for a full six-hour day excursion from the home. And I know that time away will only grow lengthier as the sand drains from the hour glass and the extracurricular activities pile up. There’s that famous question – if you were a superhero, what power would you have? Freeze time, baby. That’s what I would do. Or at least slow it down to a nice Southern drawl to buy myself enough time to notice and savor all those little details that sometimes fly by unnoticed – until it’s too late.

Of course that’s a fool’s errand and one of the greatest things we can do as parents is displace our hopes on the fantastic and funnel that energy into enjoying each blessed moment we are granted with our children. Believe me – I’m not preaching from the pulpit and have lots to learn about patience – but it seems like the right direction to live a life – especially one with the joys of children in it. To come to terms with the fact that we can control the passage of time if we take the moment to savor each milestone our kids meet head-on is probably the greatest discovery we can uncover. We’ve been there – staring down the big bad world – and while we know their path ahead will meander as unpredictably as ours did, there’s a lot of fun and enjoyment to be had in taking a step back and allowing them to take that big step forward under their own power. At the end of the day, it’s their life.

Therefore, it was with a potent mixture of pride, happiness and melancholy that I watched my boy enter the hallowed halls of his elementary school and settle into his seat on the first day of an exciting new year. As Andi, Aria and I escorted Colin up the ramp that winds through the First Grade Corridor to the rear section that houses the Kindergarten and Preschool home rooms, I secretly counted the few remaining steps separating us from his blossoming independence. As we rounded the door to his classroom, Colin took a look inside, spied some familiar faces from last year’s preschool class and before bounding off to join his friends, he turned around and declared – “You can go now.”

Off he goes…

Comments now closed (16)

  • Just beautiful! I thought you may write about your favorite parenting mentors, but maybe that will come in a future blog… 🙂

    Your kids are so blessed.

  • @Kerry – Well, if that future Blog on parenting mentors manifests, you and Tim will surely get a shout out. I’ve compiled enough of a sample through the various parties and get-togethers to see what a close knit family unit you guys have worked so hard to create – warm, loving – the true definition of family.

    Plus – I remember getting a visit from you in those first, flesgling days of newfound parenthood – with a hot meal by your side to help us through another restless evening and have never forgotten it.

    You guys are great friends and stellar parents.

    You set the bar high.

  • I actually have no Kindergarten memories ( and it’s NOT because I am too old!),I just didn’t go. Being a Navy family, there was no real reason to enroll in Kindergarten because you certainly weren’t going to be there for First Grade, so you were spared the one year of being a New Kid. For effect, I will admit that I did 1st,2nd,3rd,4th,5th,7th,8th,9th,10th and 12th grades in different schools. Collin will have me beat by next year….
    Uncle Ron, however, spent his entire college prep life in Weymouth, taking his own break from the rigors of Kindergarten and walking the mile home-much the same as his nephew would a million years later. But times were different then, I remember Jason going off to First Grade in Weymouth, walking the 2 miles to the Alice Fulton School. But I was the over-cautious type, I paid the 4th grade girl $5 a week to escort him safely!
    I will watch this space for the further adventures of Collin, then Aria. It’s a little bittersweet when they go off so confidently – you tell yourself that you must be doing something right – and yet you want to go scoop them up and take them back home where they will be little forever. I am betting that Dad can’t help them with their math by Third grade, but he will see them safely through Freshman English!

  • @Aunt Sharon – You’re right about the math deficiency. Fortunately, Mom has that Ying to my Yang.

  • Good thing they didn’t have Amber Alerts yet…

    So, I obviously don’t have any kids yet, that I know of, and can’t relate with the emotions and attachment and time-flying type stuff now, but if I ever do, I may have gotten a little primer here of what to expect. A thoughtful and well written piece for sure in the growing historical record of the Humphries clan.

    Now, as a follow-up post, I think you should share what you shared with me over XBL about Colin’s start to K-Life. That’s just good stuff that a proud papa should crow about to everyone.

    Also, I’ll just add that I also didn’t attend kindergarten. While I’d like to chalk that up entirely to my supreme intelligence at the time (maybe not so much these days), I think it also had something to do with having a birthday at the end of the cut-off. (Surely if the intelligence thing were the criteria, Colin too would be skipping ahead, yeah?) So, instead of likely being the oldest kid in your grade not having ever been held back, I was the second youngest (by mere hours) in my class a year ahead of you. Would we have been earlier friends had that been the case? Mortal enemies? Frienemies?

    Bah… this has nothing to do with anything… except kindergarten… of which I have no experience… which means, I have no experience in anything this post deals with… except that I know Colin is one in a million!

  • Sean wrote:
    “Would we have been earlier friends had that been the case? Mortal enemies? Frienemies?”

    You forgot… A Bromance?

    The mind shudders.

  • Hello, fellow bus passenger of Bus #1, Mrs. Hagerty, seat next to Andrea Diman here 🙂 Ah, the first meeting of what would lead to a lifelong friendship.. and an illustrious singing career as part of Blonde Oreo.

  • What I remember about my first day of kindergarten is having to be torn away from my mother when she dropped me off; straining for the sight of the back of our old red station wagon as she drove it out of the school driveway– both of us in tears; and finally flying off the school bus at the end of the day, into her waiting arms, yelling, “I didn’t miss you one single bit!”

    As for my own children, I wrote them all letters on their first of first days, feeling just as torn apart from them as I had from my own Mom. I have spent four fist days typing those letters up through tear-blurred eyes, choked with emotion. And every last one of them came back to me happy. 🙂

  • @Jennifer – I swore up and down that my first day of kindergarten was much like Colin’s – plowing ahead and never looking back.

    After I wrote this piece, I called my Mom to vet the facts and and as it turns out, you and I shared a similar first day. The difference being a Y chromosome and me whaling like a baby for much of that day.

    Well, we all see what happened next. Much like you did, and your children later (what a great story) – I came home that day as happy as a clam. Or maybe it was all a ruse to keep her form catching on to my future break from Shawshank.

    Turns out there’s more to this tale than I initially let on. Yup, I spent that first Fall digging an escape hatch behind a massive poster of McGruff the Crime Dog.

  • Yeah, I almost added Bromance to complete the references to The Hills, but I shuddered as well and didn’t want everyone to know I watch that show…

  • UGH.
    I put off reading this for a bit because I knew that I would most likely cry. Bringing Pete on his first day last month was so upsetting to me. Just watching him with his backpack (that is bigger than him), seeing how much of a big boy he was brought me to tears. He is now taking the bus, and when he is about to get on it, he just turns to me and waves and says ‘bye mom!’ Here I am being so sad about this whole growing up thing….pretty soon he won’t want me at the bus stop to wave bye to. guess it is that whole freezing time issue.
    i am way too emotional.

  • Just thought you’d like to know they tore down the Hamilton School. I taught their in the early 90’s. They have since built a new school and named it the George Keverian School.