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Friday Takeaway: The Last First Day

  • Naomi Shulman is shown May 31, 2017 in her Northampton home.



Friday, August 31, 2018

The evenings are — or soon will be — crisper; the crickets are singing more loudly. A leaf turns yellow, and before you know it, a yellow school bus is traveling down the street. Even if you don’t have school-age children in your house, you’re probably well aware that kids everywhere are strapping on their backpacks and tying up new pairs of sneakers. You see them traipsing down the streets to their bus stops, or your friends are bombarding your Facebook feed with photos of fresh-faced pupils heading off to class. It’s the week of the First Day.

As always, I forced my tolerant daughters to pose for a First Day photo a few days ago, each holding pieces of paper proclaiming the grades they’re going into. I have similar such photos going back for more than a decade. This time, however, my elder daughter Lila’s piece of paper said “12th Grade.” In other words, this was her Last First Day.

Why is my heart in my throat? I have experienced so many lasts with this child already. The last time she needed to be carried up the stairs; the last time I bathed her; the last time she said “aminals” instead of “animals.” The thing is, I didn’t know any of those times were the last times. And I’m grateful I didn’t know, because if I had, it would have torn my heart right out of my chest. Instead, we all kept sliding along into the future without really being aware of how quickly it was all going, how soon we would arrive to this moment, the Last First Day.

It’s the old irony: Do the job of parenting right, and you put yourself right out of a job. In our house, at least, the kids are helpfully staggering the milestones. Lila’s Last First Day won’t be the only Last First Day we undergo; Stella is three years behind her. And there are still plenty of firsts on the horizon, of course. First trips home from college. First jobs. First grandchildren, if I should be so lucky (no pressure, kids).

But, more than ever, I’m conscious of just how quickly these firsts may come along.  After all, I swear it was just a couple of years ago that I placed my hand along my newborn baby’s back, marveling at how my palm spanned the length between the nape of her neck and her tailbone. Eighteen years of active parenting stretched before me endlessly. A single night was an eternity of wailing sleeplessness.  Now that same baby’s hands are bigger than mine, and she’s reaching farther and farther away. Her entire life stretches before her endlessly; she has yet to experience time as the speeding missile that it has become for me.

“I am so over high school,” Lila texted me in the middle of the Last First Day. She’s ready for the next thing, and I know it, but I’m glad she has to wait a little while longer. I have jokingly told her that she’s allowed to go to any college she chooses...within a ten-mile radius. That actually affords her a fairly good selection, given where we live. But she’s insistent that she wants to move out of shouting range, and I can’t really blame her. “Nine long months,” she groaned to me via text. But for me it will be unbearably short — we have already had the (last) first day, then it will be time for (the last) parent teacher conferences, then (the last) winter break, and (the last) spring break and, and, and. We all know where this goes. Nine more months, and then she’s born.

Naomi Shulman’s work has appeared in many publications including The New York Times, The Washington Post and Yankee Magazine, as well as on NEPR and WBUR. Follow her on Twitter:
@naomishulman.