By Joel Phelps
The Arkadelphian

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.

Categories: Voices

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  1. In the summer of 1986, we moved to North 26th Street from Sylvia Street, and the kids changed from Perritt to Central Primary. Central had an asphalt playground with a jungle gym on it. Teri was part monkey and always liked to play on jungle gyms or anything she could climb.
    I was at my office one morning when I got a call from the school nurse at Central. She asked me to come to Central because “Teri may have hurt her arm.” I arrived at Central and went to the nurse’s office. It was a long narrow room. As I entered, I again heard “Teri may have hurt her arm.” From 20 feet away, it was obvious that her arm was broken. May have hurt her arm???
    Teri had fallen from the jungle gym and landed on the asphalt. No doubt they were worried about legal consequences, thus the nurse didn’t come right out and say Teri had broken her arm.
    Off we went to Dr. Wesley Kluck’s pediatric clinic. He sent us to Baptist Medical Center-Arkadelphia for an x-ray and then sent us with the x-ray to an orthopedic clinic in Little Rock. Teri got a cast of course. The next day a radiologist from Hot Springs came to BMC-Arkadelphia, read the x-ray film, concluded she had broken her arm, and of course, sent us a bill for his services. Wow! Do you think? Actually broke it huh? That’s when I concluded there was a racket going on. Mainly, the hospital was protecting its butt, and we were paying for it.
    All’s well that ends well. Teri was inconvenienced for a while with her cast, but life happens. Central, however, wasted no time in removing the jungle gym and sending it to Peake Elementary, where it could be installed over grass. I suppose they were nervous for a while that we might bring suit. No, like I said, “Life Happens!”