Mother had prepared me well for that first day of school. She had been a teacher before she became a “work at home Mom.” (I never liked that term “stay at home Mom.” It always made it sound like the Mom was just staying at home, doing nothing!)
Mother had told me all about the classroom, the bathroom, the playground, the cafeteria and more. I was ready!
I had even requested a new hairstyle. My hair was long. My mother agreed to the new look. After a few pictures to remember the long hair, she cut it into a nice short style.
My parents didn’t have much money. But they had saved enough to buy me a brand new dress and new shoes. They also gave me a new book bag, with several pencils and a big eraser inside. My mother had carefully written my name inside the bag. I was ready to go into the world!
And oh yes, there was one more important addition. No one had really understood why I was afraid of the dark. No one had noticed how close I held books to my face to look at them. But in the pre-school eye exam, it became clear. I was very nearsighted.
The day I got glasses, it was a new world indeed. The nighttime monsters retreated. The pictures in my books were beautiful!
I remember that night before the first day of school. It was harder to go to sleep than it was even on Christmas Eve. But soon my mother was awakening me to get ready to go. She had already laid out my new dress, shoes, and book bag. I reached for my glasses with great excitement!
I think the call came while I was eating breakfast. I heard my mother talking to someone on the phone. Her normally cheerful voice turned quiet … then serious sounding. I thought someone may have died.
She came back into the room and sat down. I saw a look I would see many times over the years. It was the look that said, “Life has dealt me a blow. I am not down. I am in the process of getting up.” That was my mother throughout her 91 years. No matter what happened, she was on the way up. And on October 12, 1997, she kept going up, all the way to heaven.
On that first day of school morning long ago, my Mother delivered the news. In order to enter the first grade, one had to have had their sixth birthday by November 1st. My birthday was November 9th. Because my birthday was so close to the qualifying date, and because they had an available seat in the first grade class, the ones in charge had waived the age requirement.
They had assured my parents that I was eligible. However, at the last minute, someone questioned that decision. So on the morning of the first day of school, they changed their minds. I could not go.
As the tears began to fall from underneath my glasses, I looked down at my new shoes. I felt something I had never felt before. I felt excluded. I felt rejected. I felt unwanted. I felt left behind.
My mother held me in her arms. She seemed so strong, but I think I heard the little sob she quickly covered up. I would later recognize that feeling too … when my own child would hurt … and I desperately wanted to fix it for her.
Getting Back Up
After sharing that hug, my mother sat back down at the table. She said nothing, but I could tell she was thinking. Bit by bit “the look” appeared on her face. She had the look of determination. Mother pushed back from the table and said, “That’s ok. We’ll have school right here. You will be my student. I will be your teacher.”
She busied herself cleaning up the dishes and then called me to the dining room.
“Get your book bag and get out your pencils.”
Then came another look I would learn to cherish — the mischievous look. She reached behind her back and pulled out a bell and rang it. “Class, come to order!”
We had school all year. We had classes. I learned how to read. I learned how to write, not just putting letters together, but writing stories! I learned arithmetic.
As the year went on, I learned acting. Mother made the stories I was reading come to life. We acted out each part. Gales of laughter filled the house, as what could have been work became the ultimate play.
We had breaks for lunch and recess. We dismissed at the same time as the regular school. When my slightly older friends came home and I went out to greet them, I must admit I felt a little smug. I was ahead of them, not behind them! My mother smiled from the window.
Bloom Where God Plants You!
The next year when I entered first grade, I was so far ahead, they considered letting me skip first grade and go right to second grade. My mother was the one who objected. She had a firm belief that God places people where they should be and at just the right time. She believed God had placed me where He desired for me to be.
So, instead, I became the first grade teacher’s “helper.” Note: “helper” is far different from “teacher’s pet.” I helped those who were lagging behind. Yes, we were all where we were supposed to be.
In 2001, I was visiting at the nursing home where my father lived. My mother had been promoted to heaven four years earlier. I chanced to meet a man, who asked me who I was. I told him I was Horace Priester’s daughter. He said many wonderful things about my Father.
But then, his face lit up, as he said, “Wait a minute! If you’re Mr. Horace’s daughter, that would mean you are Miss Pearl’s daughter too!” I told him I was.
He said, “Oh child, you got a wonderful daddy, but your mama … well, your mama was pure gold!”
He then went on to tell me how he had been her student and he was “hard to learn.” But, he said, “Miss Pearl never gave up on anybody or anything. She wouldn’t let me give up. Why, she made me think I was so smart I could do anything! And I reckon I did pretty good.”
He looked at me closer and added, “Yes, you got your Mama in you. You just be like her and you can’t do no better.”
Tomorrow (2015) school is starting. Tonight, as I reflected on my first day of school, it was not with a sense of loss. No, that early morning phone call put me on the road to one of the most magical years of my life, with the absolute best teacher anywhere.
When we closed up my parents’ house after my father’s death, I came across the bell. I sat in the dining room and rang the bell. From somewhere not so far away, I heard Mother’s voice saying, “It’s time to begin. Get your pencils!”
And so I did. I became a writer! I became a teacher. I do my best to encourage those who may feel left behind. It’s a Gift from God for which I am extremely grateful. He lovingly connects my mother and me, and I am still learning from both of them!
Reflecting on the delay in my plans also prompts me to remember other times in my life when it appeared someone had thrown a “monkey wrench” into my best plans. I was disappointed, and sometimes, even devastated. But then it turned out I was exactly where I was supposed to be, at just the right time.
Trust God. He has a Plan, not only for you, but for all those He will touch through you!
“For I know The Plans I have for you,”
declares The Lord,
“Plans to prosper you and not to harm you,
Plans to give you hope and a future.”