Today is the first day of the new school year for our boys.
At about ten to eight Max asked, “Can we go now?” And then about half an hour later his brother urged, “Let’s go so we can see everyone.”
With teeth brushed and hair styled- Alex’s sticking up, not unlike Tin Tin’s, and Max’s smoothed flat onto his head- just as I did for a while in the way which maddened my Mum. And just like me he was impervious to suggestions that it looked a bit, well, gooby.
I took some photos out the back as the boys posed on the lawn. Often siblings have to be welded together to construct an appearance of closeness, have to be moved like pieces of Lego, but I felt a hot tear when, without prompting, Max flopped a loose arm about his brother’s elevated shoulder.
They smiled willingly. Alex with his boyish radiance, all hope and joy and beauty. Max; restrained but with a cheeky knowingness that shares a confidence and a wink with the camera.
In the playground they both scarpered to friends and spent some boisterous minutes before the bell.
I watched, grateful and happy and sad, and all the things a parent feels on the first day. Both boys enjoyed those carefree moments of movement and interpersonal exchange, when time is endless, and unburdened.
I felt another tear of thankfulness when I reflected upon that other parental nightmare: to happen across your child, sitting alone in a busy playground.
Later I remember another first day of school. I walked from home, and soon caught up with a mum and her kids, making the same journey, in the dust and descending West Coast heat. I said hello and the mum, the wife of a bank manager replied, “First day?”
“Yes, it is.”
“Are you looking forward to it?”
I nodded. “I am, although I’m a bit nervous.”
“You’ll be right,” she reassured me. “The kids here are pretty friendly. So, what year are you in?”
“Err,” I looked down at my Roman sandals (yes, I’m still a style icon) and said, “I’m actually teaching.”
I arranged with Alex and Max to meet me by a tree so I could walk them to their new classes. On the bell, I farewelled one of the other dads and made my way there. After a minute or two with the playground emptying I smiled to myself, strolled inside and joined the bustling corridor, all new bags and shiny uniforms and shepherding parents.
Alex was in his class and at a table, with old friends. As the adults swarmed about all keen to invest a minute or so with the new teacher I gave Alex a pat on the shoulder, ruffled his product-ed hair and said, “Have a good day mate.” But my voice broke a little at the end, and he glanced up, not concerned for himself, but me.
Next door Max and his class were already on the mat with Mr Smith gently giving instructions. I caught Max’s eye and gave a wave. He looked happy and comfortable, and the world was bright and sunny and spinning silently on its axis.
The first day had begun, and would soon be over, and replaced by another. I hoped they would continue like this, and flow all year like rain.