Memoirs of a new dad: A time of transition

Photo: Angela Jacques

The waning days of summer have always been a favourite time of mine. It’s a period of gentle transition. The oft-smothering August heat is just beginning to be pushed out by the cool September breeze. 

Adults and youth alike are seemingly caught between two worlds, both almost frantically clinging to those last few hours of summer, while also longing for fall and the return to school or regular work life.  

Riley will be going to school for the first time this fall. It’s going to be a huge transition for him, as he’s always gone to the daycare his mother works at. This will be the first time he’s been in a scholastic setting away from his mother.

To ease him into it, we brought him to a meet-and-greet at his new school, where he’d spend a few hours in class with this year’s students. The afternoon before we were to take him for his introductory class, he and I were reading The Berenstain Bears Go to School.

There was a passage in the story where Sister Bear says she’s not sure how she felt about beginning her scholastic journey. It occurred to me then that I had never once asked Riley how he felt about it. I closed the book and, as nonchalantly as possible, asked him his thoughts about going to school.

And this is where he speaks the first of two surprising sentences. The first was sweet in its own way, but the second bothered me so much I felt a knot form in my stomach.

He looked away from me, suddenly shy, and softly said, “I’m nervous.” It didn’t sound like that exactly, more like “Ahm Neeervis,” but I got the point.

I asked him what he was worried about. Again, he didn’t look at me. “I’m afraid they’re going to laugh at me.”

This sentence broke my heart. He’s only four. In what world do we live in that a four-year-old feels that insecure? And what could I possibly say to make that anxiety go away? That’s my job, right? To have the answers he needs exactly when he needs them?

I tried to recall what my first day in school was like. I remember sitting in a circle group, crying so hard I couldn’t breathe. I was inconsolable. A little girl crawled over to me and threw a toy at my feet. I threw it back.

In short, I didn’t handle it well.

I don’t remember how long it took before I felt comfortable in school, but I do remember nothing anybody said could make it better.

In retrospect, I guess I just needed time to get used to what was a completely new experience.

And that’s what I told Riley.

I told him I was also anxious before going to kindergarten for the first time. That it’s normal for everyone to feel that way when starting something new.

He perked up after I was done speaking. Maybe he just needed to hear what he was feeling was normal. 

The next day, he was still tepid and shy. A little girl tried to take his hand and lead him to some toys, but he pulled away and clung to my leg. It broke my heart a little.

His mother and I eventually had to sneak out of the room. As we walked down the hall, I couldn’t shake the thought I had abandoned my kid. 

When we returned though, we found that he had made some friends and had spent the bulk of his time playing happily. Perhaps he just needed some time to adjust.

And I guess, so did I. Maybe I don’t need to have all the answers. Maybe I just need to be there for him while he figures things out on his own.