I read a few first day of school posts, so I’ll add mine to the mix. I don’t have any recollection of the day, but it was one of my mother’s favorite stories to tell about me. It was the first day of pre-school, so I was 5 years old. I am the youngest in my family and none of my older siblings had had good first day of school experiences, so my mother was prepared for wailing and clinging and screaming and tears. But that was not to be my reaction. According to her story, I surprised her by darting into the room and jumping right into whatever was going on. She said she had to call out her good-byes several times before getting my attention. When she launched into her prepared consolations about being back soon to get me, making sure I was OK, etc., etc., apparently my only response was a shrug before rushing back into the room (I was like this on my first day of college, too, which I clearly recall).
If there was one thing my parents doggedly instilled in me, it was to behave graciously and politely at all times (something they instilled in all of us, of course, but by the time I came around, they’d become deft wranglers and trainers of offspring, so I was particularly compliant). So, when my mother picked me up at the end of my first day, it should come as no surprise that, when I actually did decide I had had enough of this school thing for one day (and was absolutely done with all my wailing, screaming and crying classmates, of which there were apparently quite a few, according to her story), I had been quite mannerly about it.
The teacher told my mother it was all she could do not to bust out laughing when, first, I asked to be excused from whatever activity we were doing so that I may approach my teacher—which meant she had to stop whatever the class was doing—and then, once given permission, stated in a calm and matter-of-fact tone that I had had a very nice time, thanked her for inviting me to the party, but wished to go home. Now. No tears, no fuss, but I was explicit. Home, and be quick about it. When she said that it was not time to go home yet and to retake my seat, I did as I was told. But at some point later asked politely again if I might go home, and maybe she could give me a ride if my mother was not able to come and get me. Clearly, I did not understand why my request was being denied. My folks had to explain the difference between school and a birthday party (I mean, we’re playing games, so how was I supposed to know what’s what?) but I have to say, even then, I was quite the little determined problem solver.
This brings to mind parental defiance in general and the first time I defied my folks—and was not very polite about it. It was a few years later, when I was about 8 or 9 years old. It was at a time that the world had seen a couple of decades of civil disobedience, albeit for worthy causes such as civil rights and anti-war protests, not a child’s refusal to take a direct order from her parents to attend an extra-curricular class offered through the Parks & Recreation Department.
My folks were the sort who signed their kids up for every activity the Parks & Recreation Department had to offer. Their theory: expose them to every opportunity possible and maybe something will click; maybe they’ll discover a direction in life, or at least a hobby. During most of my elementary school years we lived on the coast, so one summer Mom signed me up for surfing lessons. I was outraged. I was not a sporty kid, and by this point in life had suffered enough humiliation during P.E. to ever want to have to do anything athletic ever again. Now, I loved playing at the beach and was a regular little body surfer, but there was absolutely nothing more unappealing than to not only have to learn a sport, but learn a sport that required I get up earlier than I did for school just so I could get into the freezing ocean on a cold, damp, foggy morning (as most early mornings are on the coast, regardless the season). I begged not to go, but since my folks could not get a refund for the class, and, more to the point, because we were never allowed to say “no” to them, I was dragged to the beach with a loaned belly board from a friend of an older sibling.
My mother told the instructor (a very handsome college boy, as I recall…I was old enough to have started to notice these things…) I was not interested in surfing, but maybe he could convince me. After an orientation, everyone was to make their way into the water, but I stubbornly plopped down on the sand and refused to participate. The poor kid tried to persuade me, but I was not going to be moved. He scolded me and said I was not allowed to do anything but sit there. “Fine,” I snapped, and I did just that for the next hour. And I went on doing just that for the next three lessons. He finally told my Mom that my refusal to participate had become disruptive, as he now had a couple of other kids who also didn’t want to surf anymore and wanted to just sit on the beach. My father called me a little Che Guevara, being the leader of my anti-surfing class protest group, but it worked. I was allowed to drop the class.
That would not be the last time I employed similar protest methods to drive home the point to my parents I did not wish to comply with their instructions. In fact, I went about routinely defying their orders all the way up to each of their dying days, but by then it had become a simple love/hate dynamic in our relationship that we took in stride. What are children and parents for, but to drive each other mad from time to time?
There have been any number of “firsts” in my life, most of which are the typical milestones of growing up and becoming an adult, but some that might be unique to my life. What I do hope, now that I am in my middle years, is that the “firsts” that come along from here on out are not just the ones associated with growing old (graying hair, aging body parts, retirement, becoming a “great” relative, etc.) but are ones born out of continual generosity to others, and discovery of the world around me. I hope all my future firsts will mark a life well lived.