This morning was Katie’s open house and she is heading into first grade. And there’s little need to make the case for getting out the door on time. She’s up. Shoes on. Breakfast eaten. The Zant crew packs in the mini-van and off we go. Blair says to me, “You think we should walk? It’s not far and there’s probably no parking.”
“Nah. We’re fine,” I say.
We do two loops around the parking lot and Blair says, “This is why I was thinking we might want to walk.”
The last 24 hours social media has been a buzz with with parents posting about what teacher their child has, except me. I can’t figure out the Parent Portal. As we finish the half-mile walk to the school I try to play it off. “Katie, isn’t this cool? All your friends already know who their teachers are. You are the only one who will get to be surprised today. They won’t.”
We climb the steps with the other children and are thankful for the man with the clip board. For whatever reason, if you have a clip board in your hand, you have gained half my trust. He says, “Do you know her teacher?”
I didn’t want to admit my failures out loud for other parents to hear. (I’m a 3 on the Enneagram). So I silently shook my head no.
He said, “What your daughter’s last name?”
“Oh, that’s easy. You Z’s make my life easy.”
I regained some confidence.
He says, “She’s got miss Clifton. She’s the best.”
He directs us to the room. I said, “Alright, Katie. Ms. Clifton.”
She said, “That’s not who I wanted.”
“Have you ever heard of her?”
We walk down the hall with our Target bag loaded with school supplies. We meet Ms. Clifton. Katie is hiding behind my right leg. She is scanning for other kids she knows. There are none.
“Well, Katie, I’ve been so excited to meet you. In fact, I have your name on one of the cubbies in the back.” I can tell her brain is spinning. Blair and I share filling out the forms. I have to mark my interest in whether I’m to be a room parent. For all the reasons, I’m glad they don’t designate it ‘room mom’ but I’m not sure I’m up for it as dad. I see all the parents above me on the sheet and what they have checked. So I check, “Mystery reader. Field trip chaperone.” Feels good.
Like Katie does with the other kids, I’m looking around at the other parents wondering whether we’ll make acquaintances, wondering whether their kid might the bully. I look at Katie coloring at this point with a student she doesn’t know. And somehow it reminds me why all the butterflies.
You care for your kid. You’ve seen them smile and cry and discover they can do math and read. You hope they’ll be able to keep up and excel. But more than anything, you hope they make a friend in this new room, receive a few invitations to birthday parties at lunch and that Ms. Clifton will see a new gift we parents are too close to see in her. C.S. Lewis once wrote that between infancy and old age, “the most dominant element is the desire to be inside the local Ring and the terror of being left outside it” (The Weight of Glory). Maybe that’s the big hope and fear of this day for my precious 6 year old girl I have helped raise and watch grow. I tremble at the thought of her being left outside the ring. My prayer is that she and all her classmates will find their inner ring, their little gang. Lewis is right. From infancy to adulthood, we all want to be inside the local ring.
As we meandered through the hallway, I asked, “Katie, what did you think about Ms. Clifton?”
“Well, I didn’t know her, but I think she’s the best one.”