Off we go to her first day at school

Leanne Torres finds her daughter’s first day of school is a big adventure for them both.

If I try really hard, I can just about remember my first day of school. Maybe it’s the photo that triggers my memory – there I am with my big toothy grin in the shiny new, oversized school uniform my mother pressed to perfection. I can’t really remember how I felt, although I’m sure I was excited about finally breaking free of my mum’s apron strings and joining the big, wide world. I do remember the smells – new pencils, freshly polished school shoes and over-ripe banana when my schoolbag sprung open.

It’s one of those milestones parents talk about for years

Almost four decades later, and my daughter’s first day of school is no different. It may be a new century, and I wear a lanyard instead of an apron, but it still evokes feelings of anticipation and excitement that keep my daughter restless in bed the night before. Upon waking, she forgets for a split second that this is the special day she’s been waiting for.
Although she’s been in preschool and childcare for most of her life, this is different for her and me. It’s one of those milestones parents talk about for years to come. The start of so many new experiences, such as reading, writing, learning maths, sports carnivals, borrowing books from the library and trips to the canteen. It’s when you first make those all-important connections, some of which may even last a lifetime.

My daughter buttons up her huge blue-check dress and fastens the velcro on her brand-new shoes. The final touch is the wide-brimmed hat. The giant backpack is positioned on her tiny shoulders, causing her to stagger backwards like a little drunken sailor. We take photos from every angle – the front, the side displaying the mammoth backpack, walking through the back gate, getting into the car, getting out of the car and standing in front of the school. These photos will inevitably be displayed on a large screen at her 21st birthday.

For a few seconds, as we stand out the front of the school, there’s a quiet peacefulness – a snapshot I file away in my mind of my little girl letting go of me and taking that first giant step. I know this is the beginning of a lifetime of bittersweet goodbyes, but there’s a wonderful joy, too. She is starting what will be some of the best years of her life.

I wipe my cheeks and we open the old front-office door. There are little ones everywhere dressed in blue and yellow, some with ribbons and headbands, others with sturdy new cargo shorts and freshly cut hair.

Little fingers tap on the fish tank while they wait. My daughter grabs hold of my hand and anxiously presses her body into mine. I squeeze her hand, bend down and look into her wide eyes. “Everything’s going to be okay,” I tell her softly. “It’s going to be the best day ever, you’ll see.”

I hold on to that thought, and five hours and three coffees later I’m searching through a sea of faces in the school pick-up zone. Then out she struts with spots of green paint on her new dress – remnants of her first masterpiece – and the gigantic backpack slung over her shoulder. I watch her laugh and chat with her new peers, completely absorbed in school life, before she catches my eye and runs to me.

Illustration by Amanda Upton