I had 2,321 days to prepare for her first day of school: a dad’s story

The buzz emanating from the kids inside the bright classroom is failing to lure my daughter in.

So is a teacher’s warm smile and out-stretched arm.

She is clutching the palm of my right-hand with all five of her little fingers. Her new grey sundress with lemons is squeezed against my right thigh.


She’s shaking slightly.

I’m trying desperately not to cry.

It’s her first day of Grade 1 at a new school, in a new language.


I’m only standing in this dim hallway because the school bus – which my kids were excited about riding – didn’t show up. So, I had to drive them. Her brother marched down the hall to Junior Kindergarten without a care in the world, perhaps too young to grasp the size of the moment.

My daughter’s fear is ricocheting off my soul. She’s a brave kid who is not afraid to go down the steepest slides, take hard falls, go on roller-coasters or jump off tall heights.

This is different. The unknown and uncontrollable laying beyond the classroom door’s threshold is overwhelming her.

Her hand squeezes tighter as the teacher reaches out a second arm.

As parents, we’re not supposed to be our offspring’s best-friend. Our job is to channel our efforts into arming them with the tools they need to be safe, curious, kind, confident and well-adjusted little humans.

dad holding kids' hand

Sometimes that mission is hard for me to remember when I am constantly worrying about them. Over time, I’ve learned to let go of the instinct to over control their lives. I assume that if I put too tight a box on them, they will find their way out or suffocate in it.

I lean heavily on conversation to ease my active mind.

I’ve learned to ask strategically specific questions.

“Was school good today?” is a sub-par question eliciting a shrug, or the dreaded “yes or no”.

Smart questions include: what did you do in gym or music class today? Who did you play with at recess? What did your friends have in their lunch? These focused questions offer me clues into how they’re doing.

I don’t really care that little Samantha had a peach yogurt. I care that my questions trigger anecdotes about moments of their day.

I always try to answer their questions too, regardless of how mundane or repetitive. I tell them if I don’t know something and ask them what they think.

It also helps me to have conversations with people who see them everyday. That’s meant finding time to meet their teachers and being present at school events – even if I’m not interested in the activity. This past year, my wife and I joined a handful of parents taking a 30-minute dance lesson in the school gym – taught by the principal – while the kids enjoyed the school movie night.

All these conversations help me uncover little clues I piece together to keep my thoughts rational, (somewhat).

Sometimes, though, I just have to let go as I did last September.

It was time for her grade school journey to start.

I open her school bag and take out the tiny pink croc shoe we put in it the night before. It’s the same one she “wore” as a newborn, which had for years been hanging from our car’s review mirror.

She rubs it with her fingers.

I take a deep breath and get down on one knee and look into her soaked eyes.

“We’re proud of you. Be brave. I know you can do this,” I say quietly near her face.

The classroom door closes behind me.

I walk back through the silent hall, get in my car and cry.

I want to sit there all day, waiting to see her at recess to make sure she’s fine and playing with someone, anyone. I think about taking a quick peek into her class through the outside window. Her smile would be comforting.

Instead, I call my wife.

“That was really hard.”

As my daughter’s school journey continues there will be many doors luring her through. Some will be exciting and important, others risky and dangerous. While I won’t be there to hold her hand, I wonder if I will have done everything I can to prepare her.

Author: Adam Grachnik

I am a 30-something father and husband, proudly raising my two little maniacs (girl and boy) in a happy suburban home in Richmond Hill, Ontario.

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