I never made it to my first day of school. Or rather, I made it there, but I didn't stay. That is, the first day I ever went to school, I was there for all of three minutes.
I was born in Southern California in 1969, and I lived for the first two years of my life with my parents in a house in Pico Rivera. Jeff and Linda Bouvier were teachers. In 1971, my father was offered a good teaching job in Darien, Connecticut, and so we all set out to drive across the country -- my father in the '67 red Ford Mustang, and my mom and me in the Volkswagen Beetle. My mom had made a playpen in the back of the Beetle for me, and we'd rendezvous with my dad at predetermined inexpensive motels in the evenings.
When we arrived on the East Coast, our little family stayed at my grandparents' place for a few weeks while my parents searched for a suitable apartment in a suitable town near enough to my dad's new job in Darien. Finally, after our long odyssey, we were settled into a two-bedroom abode on Meadowside Road in Milford, Connecticut.
My mother noticed that all the recent different beds and sites and states had awakened an insecurity in her young son. I was unwilling to leave her side for even a moment. I would follow her around the apartment. I needed to sleep between my parents in their new Connecticut bed.
After my sister was born, and although I had mellowed somewhat, my mother conscientiously realized that I should be socializing more with children my own age. And so she enrolled me in nursery school at the tender age of three and a half.
Jack and Jill Nursery School was a quaint little house with a play yard, just up the road and around the corner from Meadowside Road. In the days leading up to my "first day of school," my mom took me shopping for the things I'd need: a new shirt, new shoes, a new belt, a stylish (bowl) haircut... She presented these novelties to me like shiny gifts, and she gave me loads of experienced information, and she got me excited about this new place (school!) where I'd be spending some of my time.
Little did she (or I) know...
That fateful first day, as we entered the schoolyard full of screaming, running, playing, and jumping children, I grew worried. I distinctly remember the worry. I still feel it when I enter spaces full of screaming, running, playing, and jumping people. As we met Miss Laurie, my teacher, who, though kind-looking and gentle, was much older than my mom, I started to wonder what was going on. And when my mother detached her hand from mine and said she'd see me later, it dawned on me. I was duped! My mother intended to abandon me there. No, thank you, ma'am. Nothing doing.
I ran after my mom and held on. I reached deep into my tiny chest and found the biggest voice I could and I screamed out loud and loudly cried. I held on to the doorknob with one hand and my mother's hand with the other. I fell on my face and kicked and rolled around. Such behavior! On some level, I view this performance as rather comical. It would have played well in vaudeville. But to me, at the time, the feelings were all too real. And my mother sympathized. Finally, she just gave up and took me home with her. I never made it to my first day of school.
The next day was the same, except that this time my mother broke free and left me there. Apparently, I calmed down quickly after she was gone, and I had to face my peers with a hoarse voice and salt motes on my stunned little face. I recall that many of my new small friends did quite a bit to comfort me. There wasn't much irony in nursery school in 1972; mostly among us three- and four-year-olds it was compassion and pity. Thankfully.
But still, each new school day, I would have my screaming, crying, crazy moment when my mom would turn to leave me. It was as though I always believed I'd be left there, no matter that she'd picked me up the previous afternoon; no matter what she said.
After about a week, my mother, being the resourceful woman she is, looked in the phone book and called a famous child psychologist, Louise Bates Ames, and asked for her advice. Ames told my mother to furnish me with something important from home, some object or image that would comfort and reassure me, kind of like Linus with his blanket or the "Land of the Free" with its star-spangled banner. Through the schoolyard's sunny glare, at least I'd know that my security was still there.
So my mom sat me down with a recent family photo, newly framed, and told me that I could take this picture with me to school. I could keep it with me and put it someplace safe, and anytime I missed Mom or Dad or my little sister, then I could just go over to the picture and everything would be all right.
And what do you know? It worked. Incidentally, the first days of new things have never troubled me again. (In fact, as I get older, it's the last days that make me want to kick and scream. Ah, well...)