I stayed up late one night last week to pin down some memories from Sheppy’s first day of school, and thought I’d share them with you today.
That’s right, I said Sheppy.
My little buddy who was born yesterday.
The one who still feels eternally toddlerish.
He started school last week.
We did our little rite-of-passage “walk” that morning after breakfast, where the new Kindergartner gets to put a first backpack ‘round the shoulders, says goodbye to Mom, walks out the backdoor with the other school-aged siblings, and comes to the front door where the doorbell is ceremoniously rang, and the door is opened by the homeschool teacher…who, by the way, is still Mom.
When my firstborn took his walk back in 2012, I said goodbye to him with my hair in a messy bun and my body wrapped up in a big, terrycloth robe and, as he made his way from the back door to the front door, I dropped the robe, slipped on some heels, and took down my hair, answering the door wearing the brand-new schoolmarmish dress I’d had hidden under the robe.
“So…how DID you do that?” he whispered to me as his little brother got ready for school. “I’ve never been able to figure that out. You looked one way when I went out the backdoor, and completely different when I came to the front door.”
He’s 11. Still stumped.
Sheppy had a similar look of stunned wonder on his face over the whole ordeal…before he’d even taken his “walk”!…and because I know him, I knew he had absolutely no idea what was going on, even as we tried to explain it. And so I just hugged him goodbye, handed him an apple for “his teacher”, and instructed him to follow his siblings.
I don’t have as much time for introspective sentimentality as I used to, and so there were no tears, but as I waved goodbye to him, the question did flit through my brain…
How are we here so quickly?
It took fifteen years for his big brother to grow to the Kindergarten stage.
How did it take Shep fifteen seconds?
I’d better start ordering Baby Jack’s school supplies, I guess.
With the last backpack disappearing around the corner of the house, I shut the door behind my precious little line of people, took down my hair and scrambled around to find a cardigan to throw on over my shirt as I walked to the front door. So my tradition has been adapted a little bit. Not a high heel in sight.
“Ding dong!” said the doorbell.
“Hellooooo!!” I smiled, throwing wide the door. “Welcome to your new year of school, children!!!”
I adore the following photo. Just ignore the sleepy lady with her hair under her cardigan in the shadows and focus on those dearhearts on the porch!! A man asked me last week, when he found out I have five children, “What’s wrong with you??”
“I’m just such a fan!” I told him.
I mean, he obviously hasn’t seen this crew. Then he wouldn’t think of asking such silly questions.
The expression on Shep’s face was exactly how it had been the last time I had seen him, wonder-filled and clueless, but he continued to follow the instructions of his siblings, coming inside and handing his apple to his new “teacher”.
“I like pretending!” he confided in me as I reached down to accept his gift.
“I do, too,” I confided back, feeling like the luckiest woman on the planet.
And just like that, the tradition was fulfilled, and we plunged straight into our first day of homeschooling four children. We’ve decided, with my so-not-Type-A personality and a proclivity for losing track of schedules, that Mr. Gore should take a more prominent role in our home academy, overseeing everyone’s daily schedule from a handy app on his phone and, more specifically, taking on the schooling of the big two while I school the little two and, of course, keep the baby from eating toilet paper and Legos.
I still teach the big kids history and grammar and whatnot, I still read aloud to them, I still run Poetry Teatime, and I still choose and order our curriculum, but he is their “homeroom teacher”, if you will.
And that leaves me free to pour as much attention on my 2nd grader and Kindergartner as I did on their big siblings, and I am SO GRATEFUL. The younger grades, I have found, delight me endlessly, and I think I could spend my whole life teaching different youngsters…one or two at a time, of course…to read and to count and to love Mother Goose as much as she deserves to be loved.
Anyhow, back to our first day of school. Baby Jack played along nicely, volunteering for his nap at 10:00 sharp, and as the big three holed up in the schoolroom with their papa for a science lesson, I sat down with my new Kindergartner for our first lesson together at our long dining table.
True to his precious nature, he called me “Teacher” with every sentence he spoke.
“Teacher, what book are we going to do next?”
“Can I open my new scissors, Teacher?”
“I like this room, Teacher!”
And as he cut out some snakes that he had immediately and spontaneously started coloring on a piece of white paper when he sat down…which shows you how much I’ve grown as a homeschooler! His big brother had to follow the curriculum and only the curriculum, haha!…he told me all about his morning thus far.
“I didn’t have to go very far to get to school today, Teacher,” he said. “I just went out my door, and went past the dogs, and then I was in this house right by my house, Teacher. I like your school, Teacher.”
Oh, my word. I LIKE MY SCHOOL, TOO, SHEPHERD!!! Especially with you in it! Delights every other second up in here, but then, that’s how life has been with this fourth-born. He’s like a children’s book come to life and, I feel like you know this by now, I really, really love children’s books!
The two of us sailed happily through all of our activities for the capital letter “A”, and then I had to swallow down a hundred giggles when our new Teacher’s Helper from the All About Reading program, a hand puppet named Ziggy the Zebra, came out to help Sheppy learn about rhyming.
A bit of backstory, when Shep was a very little guy, we discovered that he was really enamored with shadow puppets, and so every night when he was in his little bed next to ours, a shadow puppet shaped like a duck would appear on the wall beside him.
He named him “Guck Guck”, and the two of them had long conversations every night.
And over Shep’s shoulder, his papa and I would be melting into the floor because he had no idea that the puppet was really his papa’s hand. It was too sweet to be real, but…IT WAS SO REAL. Shep never looked our way, and only had eyes for Guck Guck as he told him all about his day. And this little bedtime preciousness went on for a couple of years.
Cut to the first day of Kindergarten when Shep was staring straight into Ziggy’s face, talking to him about school.
Now, according to our curriculum instructions, Ziggy is a forgetful fellow who has trouble keeping his words straight, giving the student plenty of opportunities to correct him.
But where we ran into a problem right off the bat is that Shepherd ALSO has trouble keeping his words straight!
And as I followed Ziggy’s script in the teacher’s manual, pointing out different body parts on Shepherd to introduce the concept of rhyming, the following conversation unfolded:
“This is your holder,” Ziggy said, pointing at Shep’s shoulder.
“No, Ziggy!!!” he laughed. “That’s my SHIRT!”
“Uhhhh…” said Ziggy, immediately stumped. “No, the thing under your shirt, right here!”
Shep blinked at Ziggy.
“Shep!” I whispered, getting him to look at me. “I think he means your ‘shoulder’…”
“Oh!!” Shep said. “That’s my SHOULDER!”
“Then this is your land,” said Ziggy, pointing to Shep’s hand.
“Ziggy!!!” he belly laughed. “That’s my HAND!”
“Oh, your hand!” said Ziggy, moving on to point at Shep’s finger. “Then this is your linger?”
“That’s my finger, Ziggy!!!” he cracked up.
“But this is your south?” said Ziggy, pointing at Shep’s mouth.
“Ziggy!!! That’s my FACE!!”
“Your mouth…” I whispered. “Mouth rhymes with south, get it?”
Shep nodded, still staring a Ziggy like he was the best thing since Guck Guck.
“Well this is your farm?…” said Ziggy, pointing at his arm.
“No…” he laughed. “That’s my…uhhhh…I forget what that’s called!…”
“Your arm!” I whispered.
He also forgot the name of his toe. And the name of his chin. And when he and Ziggy started talking about Shep’s fidget spinner that he got at the dentist, things really went crazy. Ziggy called it a “finish spitter” and Shep laughed at him and said “ZIGGY!! It’s a SPINACH FINNER!!!”
Now tell me, how is a Kindergarten teacher supposed to keep a straight face as she navigates back and forth between two amnesiacs, one of whom is furry zebra puppet attached to her farm…I mean, her arm?
And that was just one little snippet of sweet hilarity from a day at homeschool that I pray I never forget.
“I loved pretend school…” Sheppy sighed when we were finished. “I wish I could do it forever.”
“That wasn’t pretend school, Shep,” I told him. “You are really in school now! And you do get to do it every day, for a long time!…”
“No,” he laughed, as if he were talking to Ziggy again. “It was pretend!”
“No, it really wasn’t,” I insisted. “It was really real.”
“No…” he laughed, absolutely positive that I was pulling his leg.
“It IS real!” I said, laughing in return and stopping down to cradle his face in my hands. “You just went to SCHOOL, Shep! You are really learning your letters and how to read! Like a big boy!”
“But I didn’t go anywhere,” he said.
“Because you are in homeschool, Buddy,” I explained. “Remember?…”
“OHHHH!!!!” he said. “Homeschool! I FORGOT!!! Because it starts with ‘home’!!!…”
Yes. It starts with home.
And home is exactly where I could stay, with this Kindergartner, at this table, for the rest of my life.
Ziggy is welcome to join us.