The door squeaked opened. Footsteps approached.
“Someone else is in here,” I thought, scrambling up from the cool tile, clunking my head against the bottom of the stall wall. Mama would have been mortified had she seen my pale face resting against that bathroom floor. But where else could I calm my stomach? I wasn’t sure how long I’d been there, but my clothes had already absorbed the odor of stale pine disinfectant and the chalky remains of Comet cleanser etched into the floor from years of germ killing.
It was the first day of third grade and I wasn’t ready.
Oh, Mama had taken me shopping for school clothes and shoes, all right. I had a brand new paper-filled binder, a gazillion sharpened #2 pencils, a pack of unbroken Crayola crayons, and a plastic coated Alvin and the Chipmunks lunchbox.
The night before, I’d put my outfit in ready-to-wear position, crawled into bed, and switched off the light. But that didn’t turn off my mind. Who would be in my class? What if no one liked me? What if I didn’t like them? Would my teacher be nice? Was I smart enough? Would I learn as fast as the other kids?
I was excited. I was terrified.
That first day, I awoke to the smell of breakfast. I shot out of bed and dressed in a whirl. In the kitchen, my siblings were already sipping orange juice, devouring the scrambled eggs and toast Mama had piled onto their plates. The last thing I wanted to do was eat, but I knew I’d never get out of there alive without at least a bite or two.
Thirty minutes later I was standing by the school office waving to Mama as our car disappeared down the road. At that very moment, nausea kicked me right in the stomach. I glanced around. There were a few kids walking the halls with their parents. I wandered off alone to find my class. Finally, I stood in front of room number 36. “Mrs. Evans” was printed in capital letters on the door.
My stomach churned. I burped up something sour. I can’t be sick at school! I headed for the nearest restroom. There I soothed my grumbling belly by lying face-down on the cool, tile floor.
I made it through that day without getting sick. In fact, there have been lots of other “first days” as well as first dates, job interviews, singing in bands, the initial meeting with my mother-in-law-to-be, each level of motherhood, and later … my divorce. All this and more, I’m proud to say, was accomplished with little or no regurgitation.
I succeeded in forgetting that school day dreaded excitement until I recognized the same angst in my daughters. One night, as they were laying out their clothes in anticipation of the first day of school, I sat down and asked, “So what do you think tomorrow will be like?”
They didn’t say, “I’m scared,” but as we talked, I realized they were wondering about some of the same topics that had kept me awake on the last night of summer each year. I wanted to assure them they would be all right.
For the first time, I was thankful to have been somewhat of a target during my years in school. I was overloaded with experience on the subject. I pulled story after story from my mental file cabinet, some funny, some not so funny. Then, I kissed them goodnight and turned off the light.
Thinking I made it easier for them would be a mistake. As a parent I’ve learned there are some mazes children must find their own way through. What I shared with them was a sense of security.
I was proof. Someone they looked up to had survived it.
Halfway down the hall, realizing there was something I had forgotten to tell them, I headed back, opened their door and flipped on the light. “Girls,” I said.
“Yes, Mom?” they replied in unison.
“If you ever have a stomach ache at school, please have them call me. I’ll come pick you up, okay?”
They gave each other their, She’s lost it look. “Okay.”
“I love you,” I said, and left them in darkness, knowing that at least one of us would be getting a good night’s sleep.