First Day Jitters And Broken Promises

It’s 4:30 a.m. and I’m getting ready to make pancakes.

Waking up at an ungodly hour is what happens when my brain kicks itself into overdrive though my synapses are not misfiring this time due to my ongoing quest to find gainful employment as a freelancer. Rather, it’s the new day of possibilities lying ahead for my two young daughters who, in a few short hours, will board their new bus to begin their first days of school in a brand new district.

Their situation hits close to home as I moved twice in the same school year when I was in the seventh grade, first from Queens to North Babylon and, a few short months later, from North Babylon to Port Jefferson Station.

Anyone who has made such a transition understands its difficulties, as well as the inherent awkwardness that comes with moving on from elementary to middle school—think puberty, pimples and lots of punks.

And then add to the mix that you know no one, and are a natural introvert.

I promised myself back then that I would never subject my children to the same, and it was that promise that played a significant part in our final decision to dig up our New York roots and replant them in North Carolina.

Prior to moving, my wife and I agreed that Shannan, who starts the fifth grade at 8:15 a.m. today, was still young enough to adapt to a change of scenery. She’s still single digits—at least for another six weeks or so—but, more important, will get to enjoy one last year of elementary school before she makes the jump to middle school. The fact that she and her younger sister, who starts the first grade at the same time today, will get to take the same bus and attend the same school for the next 10 months also eased our minds.

So, why am I up extra early and already mixing pancake batter?

It’s because I know that Shannan, a largely independent introvert like her daddy, has been battling the first day jitters for the past week, and possibly longer.

It also means that I broke a promise that I made to myself three decades earlier.

Unlike her younger sibling, who I’ve dubbed our “family ambassador” thanks to her panache and ability to make new friends, Shannan downplays her emotions. She rarely complains, is affectionate but on her own terms, and will only admit when she’s nervous, anxious or scared if you press her—and sometimes not even then.

Well, one of those rare occasions took place a few days ago as we were enjoying our final day of an abbreviated vacation in Myrtle Beach. It was shortly after 10 a.m. and we were entering the first turn at Broadway on the Beach when Shannan was having difficulty keeping up. She then complained about stomach pains but didn’t have to go to the bathroom.

After some careful questioning, my wife and I recognized that the issue wasn’t a medical one, but agreed to end our vacation a few hours early and drive home. Shannan’s stomach pains had eased by the time we stopped for lunch, and were mostly a distant memory when we attended that evening’s school open house, when both my girls had the first opportunities to meet their teachers.

The final weekend before school went as good as one could hope with beautiful weather, a pair of soccer wins and no phantom stomach pains. A quick visit late Sunday afternoon from some wonderful northern friends, Glenn and Debbie Waller and their twin girls, Hannah and Mallory, produced plenty of much-needed laughs and stress-reducing giggles.

The giggles continued as we were tucking our girls into bed, trying in vain to enforce a 9 p.m. bedtime. Getting them to calm down and rest was no easy task, though I was secretly thrilled to see that Shannan had somehow magically transformed her debilitating anxiousness into excitement for what was yet to come.

I did not want the feeling to end.

And now I need pancakes.

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