Kindergarten is the first day of the rest of your life

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An open letter on the first day of school for a young daughter.

By Steve Doyle

Dear Savannah:

Wow, big day today. Little emotional around the house. Lots of lumps in throats, nervous smiles and anxious rushing around.

You probably think the first day of kindergarten is all about you, but, well, it’s not. It’s all about everything.

Because just like when your older brothers and sisters took this first small step on a seemingly endless walk along the path to education, it is overwhelming for those of us who love you and want that walk to be nothing but a dance through a rose garden.

(And, I hate to tell you this on the very first day, but you really never stop trying to learn. One day you just won’t have to go into a classroom to do so.)

Yes, this is that big moment, and the rush of anticipation that has been on your face for the past couple of weeks has been exhilarating.

You are sooooo excited! And you just can’t hide it!

If we, your parents, seem a bit emotional today, you have to understand a few things.

First, we are torn between wanting you always to stay this age and expecting you to graduate from medical school by age 12.

Second, your Mom never has taken a daughter to her first day of school and realized those feelings. It’s not something she ever will forget – and neither will the millions who will get to share in those images on Facebook – and she also is divided with wanting to sweep you into her arms and carry you away to hide in a rainforest among the animals you both love so much.

Me, I just want you to be happy in everything and to protect you from the gremlins that lurk in the dark corners of the world, even the halls of kindergarten.

That said, I guess this is where I tell you please not to worry about everything around you. Focus on the learning and ignore those other distracting pests. Concentrate on making sure your “S’s” are aimed in the right direction and remembering that 80 comes after 79.

Your lunch will be cool in the panda-bear pack. You have all the pencils and paper and crayons and scissors and 37 colored folders required.

I’m sorry you have to wear collared shirts on days when there are heat advisories, but at least it’s not like when I was in school and we weren’t allowed to wear shorts and girls couldn’t wear pants – unless they were covered by a dress.

Such trivia won’t faze you. You view school is just another fun thing to do. You are sparkling and have this great appetite to learn. You listen, absorb and remember. And when asked, you cautiously tell what you know. We like the caution. It’s a special part of your being a strong person who is protective of her world.

But – no pressure here – remember, this is for all the marbles. This is to get into Harvard or Yale or MIT. This is for the future. This is for life.

OK, I’m teasing. You know, I do that sometimes. But that’s the way it seems these days.

School someday in memory will be like a-b-c and 1-2-3, but kids like you today seem to face so many more stressful problems and complex situations than we had to face. But you are prepared.

You – your brothers and sister and everyone of your generation – really are so much more knowledgeable and more perceptive about life and the world.

When I started to school – after walking all those miles uphill to get there, of course –  very few kids had the benefit of kindergarten, and we never heard of preschool. There was no Google or YouTube. either (heck, no calculators, just an abacus).

We prepared for school – and I was 5 on my first day of first grade – by having counting charts and pencils and paper and adults who took the time to read to us, helping us absorb language and appreciate the knowledge and entertainment that books could provide.

I would not have been a very good reader if not for my grandmother, who spent countless hours with me perched on the arm of an old flat-wood rocker while she read chapter after chapter of the Bobbsey Twins and Honey Bunch and dozens of Little Golden Books.

You’ve seen some of those on our bookshelves at home, the ones frayed around the edges, with black-and-white covers and sometimes held together by a piece of masking tape. It was because they were well-worn, well-used and well-loved.

But that’s how I learned to read. By listening. I didn’t know how to sound out a word or  understand those I should know on sight.

Now here you are, reading to me books that have long sentences and compound words. Yes, sometimes it’s difficult to remember from page to page, but you have a remarkable ability to push forward, to grasp and understand.

And you will succeed.

Now, I know there will be many new and sometimes scary things, but believe me, it’s much scarier for your mom and me.

We want to be sure that you  are understood, that you are treated well and that you continue to smile that overpowering smile.

Speaking of your Mom, we should say a little prayer for her today. It’s going to be quieter in her car and in her office and around the house, and she’s going to have to get used to that.

She’s really happy for you – that’s why you will see tears this morning – but she’s also understanding that she has to release you to the world, like that mama bird did with those babies in the barn last spring, like Opie did with his birds in that episode of The Andy Griffith Show we watched the other day.

You remember how he knew he had to let those birds go so they could grow and meet other birds and make a life for themselves?

In a small way, that’s what today is like for your Mom and me. We brought you into our family in a very special way, and we want everything to be perfect every minute.

Because, in our eyes, you are perfect, and we always want your smile to be the same.

Now get out there and have fun and get ready for Princeton.

We love you,



PS: Remember, if you ever need anything, your brother is just down the hall on the other side of the building. He’s there to help, too, so you always can ask, and he always will help.

PSS:  And remember, too, only talk to boys about baseball and cars and trucks and stuff like that. Nothing else. Ever.