My memories of early education are grisly at best. To this day, I've got two lasting and visible reminders of how rough it can be.
My left eye will always and forever have a floater inside of it. Floaters interrupt your field of vision because of the shadows they cast on the retina. It's a type of deposit of various size, shape, consistency, refractive index and motility within the eye's vitreous humour, which is normally transparent.
OR... in my case, in layman's terms, some dirty little chick scratched me in the eyeball with her filthy vampire nails during the first week of preschool. Even after a healthy hunchin' over the eye wash station and two subsequent weeks of rocking a pirate patch, it never returned to normal.
The second badge of honor I carry isn't the result of an amateur eye-rake, but more of a William Wallace-esque injury. No... I wasn't shot in the chest with an arrow on the battlefield, but I was stabbed through my wranglers with a No. 2 pencil, only to interrupt my class with a war cry, impulsively trying to remove it and breaking the tip off inside my flesh.
I probably even looked the same as Mel when it went down, without the cobalt face paint, of course.
Between the fingernail's worth of Cheetos dust permanently left in my eyeball and the graphite in my thigh, forgive me for feeling a little apprehensive about sending my little girl, with whom I've spent the last two and a half years at home with, into the lion's den of public education...
We attended orientation the Friday before Labor Day, to get acquainted with the staff, learn more about the curriculum and take a peek at the classroom.
I'm probably being a little ambitious referring to it as 'curriculum' -- it was more like a list of activities, skills and beginner books they would introduce to the kids.
Ava's cup runneth over with excitement, and secretly, so did mine. A little reprieve was coming my way, in the form of Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9:00-12:30. Instead of being overrun by the dynamic duo, my load would be lightened with only having to keep track of my son, Charlie.
The holiday weekend came and went and we awoke earlier than normal that Tuesday. It was a 'school day,' which was a fun, new term for us. My wife and I paraded around the house drinking coffee, my wife in her robe and wet hair towel-turban and me in my dad-issued white t-shirt and boxers. We lazily enjoyed each other's company while snacking on toast and amping up the buzz with Ava about how fun school would be.
And then the record scratched. The Norman Rockwell moment was instantly shattered upon realizing that we needed to leave in ten minutes. It always happens like that. The air became thick with chaos and questions being fired up and down the stairs. Does she need a snack? What time is drop-off? Why does she need a box of Kleenex in her backpack? Are we taking two cars?
Where is the little chalkboard-sign thing that we saw on Pinterest that we wanted to do on the first day of every year of school in her life?
Got it. Now hold it in front of your chest and smile. Higher. Lower. Look this way. NO, over here. Look at Daddy, not Mommy...
As I took these pictures in front of our house, it wasn't just playful talk anymore.
It wasn't so long ago that I had cut her umbilical cord and held her in my arms for the first time. Given her her first bath in our kitchen sink. Taken our walks on the beach every day while we still lived in Los Angeles. The first time she said 'Dada' and crawled, then stood up on her own. Our cross-country drive and move to an unfamiliar place. Teaching her the ABC's, potty-training and hearing her tell me that she loved me before she went to sleep. It was now clear that this day was going to be tougher on me than her.
Jen and I walked her to the classroom and weren't sure what to expect. Other kids were seemingly unable to leave their parents side and dropping to the floor, left and right, in meltdown status.
Ava immediately took off and started exploring. She went after the sand table, then the painting easels and books. After Jen had a few moments with her, I took my turn to say goodbye. As I knelt down next to her, I explained that I'd be back in a little bit and that she should listen to Miss Alba and have fun. She looked at me, put her arm over my shoulder and said, 'Okay Daddy. I love you.'
There you have it. I finally knew why she was required to lug a box of Kleenex around town. They weren't for her.
Jen and I walked down the hall and outside towards the car. The entire time I had this hollow feeling in my stomach. For the past two years, as a stay-at-home parent, my job had been to care for, protect and NEVER LEAVE YOUR KID ANYWHERE. In a sense, it felt like I was breaking my own rules.
We burned those long and arduous two hours down the street at the bookstore. I thumbed through books and frequently looked at my watch. I was waiting to get an emergency phone call. Perhaps she was having a tantrum, they couldn't find her sucker or maybe they didn't know that Ava doesn't like you to look at her while she's going to the bathroom. But... nothing. Radio silence.
We drove back to the school and approached the door to the classroom. We could see her waiting patiently in line with the other kids and as the door opened, she skipped and smiled as she ran towards us.
She wasn't wearing an eye patch, nor did I see any visible stab wounds. She painted a picture, ate a cupcake and learned to sing a song about ducks. Everything went off without a hitch.
As a parent, I think I'm always going to worry about my kids. I can't promise or pretend that it's going to get any easier for me.
All I can do is take a deep breath, step back and let her fly.
This post originally appeared on "Dad Or Alive"