A tree grows in Stittsville

Columnist James Gordon – and his sons – fondly recall their first days of school



It’s funny, the way our minds work sometimes. Ask me literally anything about what happened two days ago, and I wouldn’t get much further than the day of the week it happened to be.


Yet ask me, a 38-year-old, to describe my first day of kindergarten more than three decades prior, and the memories come flooding back in pops of vivid colour.


I remember waiting for the bus in the rain with my friend David and our moms. I remember the blue T-shirt he was wearing, and the No. 12 sweatshirt I was wearing. I remember arriving at school and seeing these big, colourful baseball illustrations with our names on them pasted to our lockers. I remember that all the class activities were named after types of fruit. I remember the blocks were extremely fun, but that nothing compared to the cherry group – drawing.


And I learned that school is really fun (until all those boring things like homework and sitting at a desk all day get in the way!), even if it’s a bit scary the first time you hop on the bus or walk through the doors of your class.


That those memories flood back so effortlessly is a good reminder of just how impactful that first day of school is in a child’s life, and the importance of making it a special and positive one.


As I get older, my kids’ first days of school are starting to run together. As a fun experiment, I asked my two boys what they remembered about their first days of senior kindergarten – the equivalent of my first day of school.


My youngest, who just wrapped up SK, remembered: “I did a lot of fun stuff. We played a game called ‘learn the names of your friends,’ and that was kind of a fun game for me. We listened to peaceful music at lunch.”


OK, pretty good, but would my eldest, who is about to enter Grade 4, remember anything?


He told me: “I know that right when we got there, the teacher made us sit in a circle and say our names. We were allowed to have snacks while we were playing. I remember what the school yard looked like – the structure was different (he’s right about that). And I remember I was wearing a shark T-shirt that had writing on it.”


Surely he didn’t remember the exact thing he was wearing!


I opened up my Google Drive to fact check him and, sure enough, there was that shark shirt.


Each and every year, we take a picture in front of a tree in our yard to mark the first day of school. When my eldest started classes, the thing barely seemed taller than me. Now it reaches past the second storey of our house – growing just slightly faster than the two lads. The boys love posing for that picture.


At some point, I imagine, and probably sooner than we think, we’ll have to beg our kids to stand in front of that tree for a picture as they roll their eyes and mutter, “oh great, another year of classes.”


Because with the passage of time, the excitement of returning to school wanes for kids (it only gets more thrilling for parents who’ve just spent two months trying to keep them entertained – ha!). Sure, it’s fun to see friends who may have been away for big chunks of the summer, but once you’ve experienced the post-kindergarten classroom routine, there aren’t a whole lot of surprises left until moving on to high school.


So ask me what my best memories of school are, and I’ll always go way back in time. In my experience, there are few things more exciting, more fun, and more memorable in life than that first day of school.