Don#039;t fret if your child cries the first day of school

Published 12:00 am Monday, August 14, 2006

I still remember my first day of elementary school in Tuscaloosa. It was 1972 and my family had just moved there from Fairborn, Ohio, where my father had been stationed with the Air Force. It was the third and final move (thankfully) of his Air Force career, which spanned 20 years.

The move had not been the most pleasant for my family, or me. I can remember sitting at a gas station for hours, someone between Ohio and Alabama, while our family station wagon was being repaired. Evidently the move took a toll on it as well.

Once we finally arrived in Tuscaloosa, we took up residence at the Moon Winx Lodge (yes, that's a real name) while my parents looked for a house. To say it wasn't the Hilton would be an understatement. It had a tiny black and white television set with a coat hanger for an antenna. Imagine three boys, aged 7, 11 and 12 packed into two tiny hotel rooms for an extended period of time and you get the picture of what my parents were up against.

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Once we settled into a permanent home, I enrolled at Skyland Elementary School. I was in the second grade and the first day of school had quite an impact on me. Since I was new to the school I had to register in the office my first day, so when it came time to join the class, I was paraded in and formally announced.

&#8220Class, we have a new student joining us today,” my teacher said, while every eyeball in the room was burning a hole through me.

Picture a lamb about to be thrown to a pack of wolves and you get the picture. Not that the kids were mean, it's just my perception at the time and you know what they say about perception. It was my reality, or so I thought.

I missed a lot of school that first year with &#8220stomach aches” and &#8220headaches.” My poor mom would have to leave her job as a hairdresser and come pick me, apologizing to the teacher for me having to miss class. Magically, the symptoms always seemed to disappear once I hit the front door of our house.

Finally, out of frustration, my mother begged one of my teachers to &#8220adopt” me as her class helper and keep me busy with tasks such as cleaning the blackboard or pounding the chalk dust out of the erasers every day. Her theory was that if I had something to do, a daily task list (other than reading, writing and arithmetic), that I would enjoy going to school. She was right, just as she always is.

About my third year school finally clicked with me and I actually began to enjoy attending, even getting elected to the school council one year as &#8220treasurer,” which, during the campaign, called for me to give a speech to the whole school about why I would be a good candidate for the job. I remember it being similar to a scene out of the movie &#8220Napoleon Dynamite.”

So for all you moms and dads out there who have little ones starting school for the first time this year, don't fret if you child cries for a while. Being a parent I've grown to understand that it's the natural order of things, and like a stomachache or a headache, it's only temporary.

Dennis Palmer is publisher of The Greenville Advocate. His column appears each Wednesday. He can be reached at 383-9302, ext. 125, or by email: