Recalling My Daughter's First Day Of School

In the next few weeks, thousands a little children across Wyoming will march off to their first day of school. Especially for those parents of kindergartners, this is a poignant time. It sure was for me back in 1976 when our daughter Amber marched off to her first day of school.

Here is a column that I wrote about how I felt about that event. The column won a national award and was originally published in our newspaper, the Wyoming State Journal in Lander. It was included in my first book, The Best Part of America, which was published in 1993. Here is the column. I hope you like it:

It’s been five years of diapers, dollhouses, skinned knees, pony tails, Barbie dolls, tricycles, sparklers, double-runner ice skates, Big Wheels, kittens, and hamsters.

Today, I’m sending my youngest child out into the great unknown. She will leave our nest and find out there’s much more to life than just that which she has learned from her folks.

For five years now, she’s believed that anything I told her was true. That all facts emanate from Dad. I’ve been her hero as her life has revolved around her mother, two older sisters, and me.

Now it is somebody else’s turn. Today, we trust an unknown teacher to do what is right for this little girl. This five-year-old, who is so precious to us, yet is just like any of thousands of other little five-year-olds.

I suppose there are scores of other little girls with blond hair and blue eyes right here in Lander.

But, please, I’d like you to take a little extra care with this one.

You see, this is our baby. This is the one I call “pookie” when she’s good and “silly nut” when she’s bad. This is the last of my girls to still always want a piggyback ride.

And, this little girl still can’t ride a bike. And she stubs her toe and trips while walking in all that Wyoming sagebrush. She’s afraid of being in the dark and she doesn’t like being alone.

She’s quite shy, but she is a friendly little girl. She’s very smart. I think she wouldn’t hurt a flea.

I’ll tell you what kind of kid this is.

Twice in the past month, she’s come crying because our cat Garfunkel had killed a chipmunk. She buried both chipmunks, side-by-side on a little hill in our back yard. She made little crosses for them, too.

This is the child with quite an imagination. She is always coming up with logical explanations for the things she sees. For example, she calls the stars “dots.” And once when we were watering the yard, she asked me if we were washing the grass?

She told us that telephone lines were put there so birds would have a place to sit.

She’s just five years old. I’m trusting her care in someone else’s hands and I’m judging that they will be careful with her. She’s a fragile thing in some ways and in other ways, she’s tough as nails.

She’s not happy unless her hair is combed just right and she might change her clothes five times a day. She likes perfume, too.

She also likes to play with toy race cars.

This is the one who always called pine trees “pineapple” trees. And when we visited our old home state of Iowa and she saw the huge fields of corn, she said “what big gardens they have here.”

And like thousands of other little girls she’s marching off to her first day of school this week.

I know how those other parents feel.

There is tightness in their chests. Their world seems a little emptier. The days are a little longer.

And when our little girl comes home, waving papers and laughing about the great time she had at school . . . when she tells us about the stars and pine trees . . . and how the farmers raise crops, well . . . she’ll have grown up a little bit already.

And I’ll have grown a little older, too.

FOOTNOTE: In the last few days, our oldest great-granddaughter, little Hailey Barnett, started her first day of school in a suburb of Denver.

I find it amazing this column still resonates so well, despite that it is being published literally two generations after its original subject, our daughter Amber, attended her first day of school some 46 years ago. Wonderful memories


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