By Joel Phelps
It was among my proudest moments as a father, although it came with an unexpected blooper reel that plays on a loop whenever I think of the morning I walked by daughter to her first day of school.
My cotton-headed 5-year-old gripped my hand as I helped her leap from the back seat of my pickup onto the covered walkway of Perritt Primary School. I grabbed her backpack and slipped it over her shoulders. We were both nervous — she because it was her first day of school, and I because first impressions are always stressful.
“Are you ready, Sweetheart?” I asked. In a squeaky tone only a kindergarten girl can make, she nodded and replied, “Yeah, Daddy, let’s go.” So we walked toward the school building, up the concrete steps and through the door.
Well, at least I walked through the front door. She walked right into it! I mean, the impact rattled the glass!
It took a second to sink in why I was now a step ahead of her. Did she have second thoughts about going to school? Had she frozen up in anxiety and fear of being away from her parents and beloved grandma who’d watched her every move since birth?
It soon dawned on me that she had smacked her precious little face right into the door that hadn’t been propped ajar.
“Oh, Sweetie! Are you OK?!” She looked a little jarred, but assured me several times she was fine, then let go of my hand and down the hallway she went, seemingly unfazed at all by her collision.
Maybe that little accident knocked her noggin just right, because she’s been a standup student with nearly perfect grades all these years, according to all her teachers and report cards.
Fast-forward 10 years. She’s now 16 and a sophomore, and is itching for that little bit of freedom that teenagers yearn for. She’s licensed to drive with an adult, and this week she’s starting her first job as a waitress at a local restaurant.
She’s nervous about it, and so is her old man. A petite little thing with tiny arms and not much in the way of agility or grace, I worry she’ll spill a drink on a customer’s lap or, worse yet, an entire tray of entrees. I worry the job might be too much for her to handle. I worry one of those persnickety customers will make her cry. I worry her grades will fall. The list goes on, but I know if she’s anything like her old man she’ll take the new challenge head-first and excel.
I’m happy she’s taking on a new responsibility. This is the point in life where she’ll start growing up and realizing life isn’t all fun and games — it’s mostly work. She will find her way. She will succeed.
It’s difficult to wrap my head around how fast the years have passed. In less than two years my wife and I will be empty-nesters, and I’ll barely be Over the Hill by the time I walk my daughter to her college dorm room.
I only hope she’ll be paying better attention to the doorway.