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Meet Mr. Mom: Preschool Daze

The first day of school isn't easy for toddlers or their parents.

When my son left the house yesterday—metal Yellow Submarine lunchbox in hand—I was pretty excited about his first day of preschool.

Maybe I was a little naïve. After all, only two days earlier I caught him with a mouthful of Styrofoam peanuts. That afternoon, he was eating sand on the beach. Who does that, especially when you have a bag of actual food in your hands?

Elijah, 2, has been in daycare since he was just a few months old, so it’s not like the move to preschool was going to be a quantum leap. Clearly, though, he has to take his game to another level.

Prior to his first day, I took Elijah out to breakfast for one final, special meal together and so that I could dispense some paternal wisdom. I don’t remember much about my own preschool experience, other than a play in which I participated where I portrayed a bear, so I couldn’t tell him a lot about what to expect.

Instead we discussed how much fun it would be, based on what I’ve heard. We talked about what he’d like to put in his lunch box (a turkey sandwich, applesauce, and carrots) and the older buddies with whom he would be reunited (Lucas and Andrew).

Then, our business being settled, we walked around the restaurant and examined the murals on the wall while we waited for our food. There were horses as well as Elvis and a photograph of the waitstaff hugging a scruffy-looking Keanu Reeves.

I don’t know what he felt about the whole thing, but I know it made me feel better. It helped me deal with the fact that this was, to quote Hemingway, “the end of something.”

I work from home most days, but every Friday since we moved to California 1½ years ago, I’ve cleared my schedule to spend Daddy time with Elijah. Those days together have been some of my most precious here.

I’ll always treasure our visit to the Getty Center when he tried to drink from every outdoor fountain, then sat down in the stream. I’ll never forget seeing dolphins with him in Malibu and chasing peacocks at the Los Angeles County Arboretum & Botanic Garden.

At first, these adventures were mostly to save money—one less day of daycare to pay for—but before long they became a highlight of my week. I didn’t realize until a few weeks ago that Elijah starting preschool would mean giving up our special Fridays.

I was surprised at how sad that made me feel, but there was a giddiness too.

This was the start of something new, something big. I got butterflies just filling out all the paperwork and driving around town to assemble the necessary disaster kit required by his school. (Sorry, Little E, but the granola bars in your kit aren’t your favorites. I hope you never have to use them.)

I’ll admit to being nervous too, not only for how Elijah would do but because my family was entering a significant new stage in life. I tried to do my part to help by making my son look good, but he refused to wear the guitar shirt that I had picked out for him. Instead, I had to settle on a more conservative beige ensemble and his Converse shoes.

For his part, Elijah never showed any signs of anxiety until just before we were ready to leave. Then he trotted around with his lunchbox, refusing to stand still for a picture. And when we arrived, he clung to me as we left the car, refusing to walk into the school under his own power.

I worried about how he would handle the transition. Would there be tears? A full-on meltdown? And by whom?

As I pondered this while I spoke with the teacher, I noticed that Elijah was no longer by my side. He had wandered off to the corner, where he immediately began playing with a toy kitchen set and feeding a doll a bottle while he waited for his peers to arrive.

I saw that and I knew: There’s no reason to worry about “the end of something.” For Elijah, this was going to be a beautiful beginning.

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