When we pull up outside Archie’s school for his very first day I use a hearty, ‘Let’s go, Arch,’ to clear the emotion in my voice, and the whole family exits the car, stopping for some photos in front of the school.
While I watch him moving around awkwardly, leaning forward to balance the weight of his giant backpack, I realise that this moment is as mundane as it is momentous. Although it will happen to just about every family and to just about everyone, it will only happen three times to our family and to Archie only once.
After we wave goodbye, we head back outside and leave Archie sitting in a classroom filled with tiny, similar-looking humans.
I have all three boys in the car with me and Archie is still buzzing. He loves school. He has new friends – Aiden, Monique and Jacob (who has shoes that make him go very fast). Archie’s so special, and I’m aware of the fairy dust in that statement even as I think it, but he’s right there, a firecracker in my rear-vision mirror, chatting, smiling, humming and gyrating in his seat.
I can’t help but think that he looks so cool in his oversized uniform, which I am pleased to say is a combination of blue, aqua and maroon.
Every morning and afternoon I see a wellspring of parental variety waiting at the bottom of the school steps – business suits, moccasins, tattoos, singlets, dark mascara over beige foundation, tired eyes carrying dark bags, frowns that have been worn all day long, the genuine smiles mixed in with the forced. The conversations I overhear range from the trivial to the semi-serious, from the polite to the gossipy and underhanded.
If I were to categorise myself among the parents I would be in the mangy group – I’m wearing board shorts and a gym shirt stained with this morning’s bacon and eggs – but I don’t care because Archie appears at the top of the steps and he’s waving at me, and I’m his Dad, and we know, more than anyone else, how cool we are.
On the way out of the grounds, the principal asks me to put in an application to join the school council.
While we’re waiting before school, Archie tells me he has more friends now – Aiden, Monique, Jacob (who has shoes that make him run really fast), Bo (who has yellow hair) and Jai (whose hair is orange). Then he says, ‘Dad, two girls here really, really like me,’ and I laugh and say, ‘Of course they do, Arch.’
The preliminary bell – which is always music that signals the preps to line up with their class against the wall – is a droll, depressing, country-ish type song that I find to be not only distasteful but potentially damaging to young minds. I tell Archie to cover his ears as he joins his classmates and I make a note to change the music to something more appropriately rousing, like Run DMC’s ‘It’s Tricky’ or Madonna’s ‘Get into the Groove’ once I am elected to the school council.
As I arrive at the school steps to pick up Archie I catch sight of him getting a kiss on the cheek from two girls who are way older than him – Grade 3 or possibly even Grade 4. While we’re walking to the car, he says, ‘They’re the girls that really like me,’ and I say, ‘Arch, you are cute, smart and funny. Of course those girls really like you,’ and when he drops his gaze, looking a little confused, and replies, ‘I know,’ I see, right there, that he’s already on his own path, growing away from me, and there’s nothing I can do about it.
Archie’s list of friends has grown – Aiden, Monique, Jacob (who has shoes that make him run really fast), Bo (who has yellow hair), Jai (whose hair is orange), Jesse and Angel.
I watch Archie disappear inside a classroom, again, and then I wander up the hallway to the office and nominate myself for the school council because today’s pre-bell song was by Keith Urban, which made me wish I’d skipped breakfast. The fear that Archie may return to me at the end of the day humming it is enough to make me break out in a cold sweat.
The days are going very fast.
Tonight, I will pick Archie up and kiss him and give him a hug because there’s a strong chance that I won’t be able to do that when he’s going to his first day at university, and I can even anticipate the day coming, when I take him to high school and he says, ‘Dad, just drop me off around the corner – no one likes your 80s music. It’s embarrassing.’
Time will hurry on and one day his school story will be over. Even though I will miss Archie as he is now and think back on these exciting days, I’m itching to see what will happen to him in the years to follow and can’t wait to see who he will become.