Her long green dress adorned with white flowers flowed around her as she slowly walked down the steps and then hurried over to me. Kneeling, I was immediately met by one of the tightest hugs our seven-year-old granddaughter, Sweet Caroline, has ever given.
“Papa,” she whispered, “I’m scared.” It was the first day of 2nd grade for our brave little redhead that’s never scared of anything — until now.
Her mom called down that it was time to go, but Sweet Caroline didn’t want to let go of her Big Papa hug. What I whispered back seemed to settle and reassure her about the big day ahead. Pulling away, she wiped her eyes, smiled, then ran over and bounded up the steps. What she said echoed down, warming my heart as I struggled to get back up. “Thanks, Papa. Love you.”
My mom spoke the same reassuring words to me on my first day of school so many years ago, on that old familiar street not so far away called Flamingo. “It’s okay to be nervous about change in your life. Just remember we love you. Now go have a great day.”
I was only six, and it was kindergarten, but it was the first time I can remember being apprehensive about a day. Since then, there have been many, many more. Below are just a few days that rank high up on my nervous day scale. Let’s see if they are like any of yours.
The first day of high school was a day — no, an entire week — that had my nerves on edge. During all of elementary school, we never changed classrooms for different subjects, but when we reached high school all that suddenly ended. And we only had five minutes to reach our new classroom or we’d be counted as “tardy.” Being tardy meant you were in trouble and had to make a trip to the office, another place that made me nervous.
The first day of college was far worst than the first day of high school. Not only did we have to switch classes, but they also weren’t even in the same buildings!
Next up, the first day of learning how to drive … with Dad. It’s easy to remember that day of driving. But not because I was super nervous — which I was. And not because he had selected downtown Atlanta streets as a good place for me to have the full experience of true driving — which he did.
It was the day Dad was so upset he couldn’t even eat his meal at The Varsity. As soon as we reached downtown, he pulled over and let me drive the rest of the way to The Varsity … a big mistake.
First, I turned down a one-way street going the wrong way. Then at the bottom of the steep hill, I ran the stop sign at the intersection, barely missing one car before almost hitting another. I thought my abilities to avoid not one, but two horrible crashes were fantastic! Dad thought otherwise.
Working at a new job ranks near the top of the nervous list, and my first day at the fire department was just such a day.
Walking under the bay doors in my crisp new uniform, I thought I knew what I was doing. After all, I was twenty-three years old and had even gone to college. I quickly found out, thirty minutes later in the middle of my first apartment fire, those four years weren’t going to help me one bit.
For the rest of that shift and for months later, I was nervous every time the alarm sounded. It took years of hard work, but eventually I was no longer nervous going to work at the fire department.
Luckily, it seems like it took less than a day, for Sweet Caroline to overcome her nervousness about second grade. On the way home after picking up Little One and Sweet Caroline from school, I asked how their first day had gone.
Sweet Caroline was so excited I had to tell her to slow down. “Papa, it was a great day! I love my new teacher! She gave me a hug!” I asked her if she was still nervous about going to school, and she replied, “No. I even made a new friend, but I don’t remember her name.”
Being nervous about a big change in your life, like the first day at a new job or school, is normal. It means that you care and want to make a good first impression. Sweet Caroline is only seven, and she has already conquered her first big fear … the first day of 2nd grade.
She, like her older sister, Little One, will be just fine. It’s their Big Papa here, I’m worried about. They and their mom will move out tomorrow after living with us for the last six years. It will be a big change in The Wife’s and my life.
Now what am I going to do with all that time alone? Like that six-year-old kid back on Flamingo, I’m nervous once again.
[Rick Ryckeley has been writing stories since 2001.]