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For the past few months, I’ve been writing a weekly fictional series titled “PostGrad Single Dad, which is loosely based off my own experiences as a single dad. Last week’s installment (the last for awhile, at least, as I’m putting the series on hiatus) found our nameless main character dad dealing with the emotions of sending his son off to school full-time.
In this dramatized version of fiction, everything about the morning goes smoothly for the fictional character, aside from some bittersweet emotions. As I wrote it before my own son’s first day of school, it was more a fictionalized version of how our first day of school would go. I was wrong.
My son’s first day of school was Wednesday, and just like the first days of school before it, I did my best to be prepared. For the duration of the school year I normally wing it more than one should, as I’ve never been the best at being prepared ahead of time. This means slathering some PB&J on bread and wrapping it up right before we need to walk out the door, or ironing my son’s wrinkly ass shirt (or sometimes just throwing it on wrinkled) with little time remaining. It’s not a smart way to live, but we manage.
The first day, however, deserves some effort. Gotta put some respect on the first day of school’s name, if you will. Day one serves as both you and your son’s true first impression with a teacher. Yeah, there’s usually the “Back to School” night, but that’s more of a casual meet and greet. The first day is game-time.
That’s when that teacher, and the school in general, gets officially put on notice about what kind of parent/student combo they’re dealing with. Is that the duo that’s on-time with freshly pressed clothes and everything they need for class? Or is that the “Wonder what they’re forgetting today,” or “Oh, what’s that stain on his pants” combo that you want to avoid? A good first impression, coming across as professional and responsible, can buy a parent some much needed leeway when they accidentally forget to bring their child’s lunch or show up ten minutes late down the road.
The night before the first day, I was on top of shit.
Lunch was pre-made and in the fridge. Some fruit, cheese stick, world famous PB&J, and some other stuff. All set. His khaki shorts and school-logo uniform polo were ironed and set out, along with his socks and shoes. I’d also made some banana bread, so breakfast was set. No potential disasters there. Best of all, his backpack, his brand-new Paw Patrol backpack, was packed and sitting next to the door. We were golden.
Morning came, and things were still smooth. Very chill. We sat and watched our usual morning cartoons for a bit. Hell of an episode of Nature Cat, per usual. My son sat and ate about half of his banana bread. Before you say that was a fail, half is pretty good because 1. He’s not huge on eating a lot until about an hour and a half after he’s been awake, and 2. The bread itself was average at best.
We brushed teeth, slipped into those ironed and laid out clothes, and sat back down on the couch with plenty of time to spare. No rushing out the door for these guys.
Roughly five minutes before we’d normally leave, I told him it was time to get a move on, because it was time to take our first day of school picture. For the last three years, I’ve gotten a snapshot of him on our porch toting his backpack and lunchbox with a big smile. It’s tradition, and it does great on Insta.
We rolled out to the porch, and assumed the position: him smiling and squinting to avoid the sun, and me holding my phone camera like a total dad. Before I started snapping, however, I realized I needed to adjust his backpack. The brand new straps were too loose for his tiny four-year-old body and the backpack was hanging well below his ass. Not a good look.
I quickly stuffed my phone in my pocket and bent down to do the adjustment, just like the thousands of times previously in my life I’d adjusted backpack straps. I tugged. Things didn’t go well.
That strap didn’t tighten; that bitch snapped. The plastic piece holding it snapped in half like Joe Theisman’s tibia. Already a huge L.
Even worse? The errant piece of plastic from the backpack shot in my kid’s cheek, leaving him with an instant bruise. To be honest, I initially thought it’d hit his eye, so cheek was a small victory. Still, things had gone from great to terrible instantly.
Our smiling pictures turned to crying pictures after I grabbed his old backpack, because he still needed something to take to school. While he cheered up by the time we’d reached school, I still had to explain to his teacher why it looked like I backhanded him in the cheek. Not the ideal way to spend the first morning of school.
To his teacher’s credit, and the reason that I’m officially all-in on her, she chuckled and rightly explained that this is something I’ll always remember and look back upon fondly. At the time, breaking that backpack was mortifying, but in reality I still delivered a happy, healthy kid to school with everything he needed. On the bright side, the embarrassment over the snapped-backpack bruised cheek seemed to distract me from the bittersweet sadness of waving bye to my growing little guy on his first day. .
If you enjoyed this story, make sure to listen to stories like this and more on the latest episode of The DadGum Podcast