The Last First Day

"Ward Christopher!!"

I hollered up the stairs for what felt like the thousandth time...

"If you cannot stop teasing your sister, you are skipping dinner and going straight to bed tonight!  I've had it!"

During breakfast, a song plays in the cd player.  The singer croons, "And our babies never cry, and we can look you in the eye, and say, 'I'm not afraid to die-e-e-e.'"

Elliot: "What's that mean?"

Ward: "It means, he's lived a good life and so he's not afraid to die now."

I looked at him a thousand times tonight.

I thought about how little he still is, in some ways.  Relentlessly teasing his sister, still struggling to swim; he hasn't even lost a tooth.

We ran around the yard together playing hide-and-seek.

Surely, he's still little.

Every so often (although it's become a rarity now), he shows up in our room in the middle of the night, standing with red eyes and disheveled hair, and insists on crawling right in between us because he dreamt about some bad guy getting him or us.

I remember the seemingly endless nights when I wished he would JUST GO TO SLEEP ALREADY.

And now, he does.

Now he folds his clothes and carries dishes and takes his own showers. He jumps from high places and swims out just a little too far.

He pretends to box with his sister, but never actually throws a punch, even though she doesn't hold back.

He gives his things to younger children without a second thought.


I asked him tonight if I could cry tomorrow when I drop him off, and he shook his head.

"Would it embarrass you if I cry?"

He looked at me through the side of his eyes, and shook his head again.  He has learned to tell a small fib to preserve my feelings.

How does that happen?

And in every new skill mastered I feel a twinge of regret.

The last first reading.  The last new letter.

Tomorrow will be the last first day of 1st grade for him.

One more last first.

For weeks, he's been saying that although other kids get nervous about school, he's just excited.

Tonight, in the quiet of bedtime, he shared his innermost thoughts that only a parent gets to hear in those moments.

"I'm a little bit scared.  Mostly excited, but a little scared, too."

We've talked a lot about what this year will look like: stricter rules, structured work, longer days.

At bedtime, he prayed, "God, let me behave at school tomorrow.  Help me be kind to others and make lots of new friends."

I remember so many of these moments, preserved perfectly in my mind.

The first time I held him.

The first time he wrote his name.

His first bike.

I was there for each of those, actively encouraging him towards that last first step and even past it...

My role tonight was more of an observer.

He took his own shower, and laid out his own clothes for school.

He made his food requests for day one: biscuits and gravy for breakfast, and chili for lunch.

I hugged him and reassured him.

I promised him I'd make him a great lunch, complete with peanut butter cookies.

And that I'd do my best not to cry.

On his last first day.


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