This is just about my favorite time of year: First Day of School! This time is a marker for what I have accomplished – or not accomplished – over the previous year, probably because the start of my year – my birthday – is not far away. I always loved school’s taking up again in the fall. I loved the smell of the school, the smell of the new varnish on the wood floors that Mr. Brewer so carefully polished to a bright sheen, the smell of new crayons and pencils – all leading to September 12, when I would be able to invite all my classmates to my big birthday party. One of the youngest in my class, I started kindergarten – the first class in Thayer – at age four, turning five about three weeks later.
I still have the obligatory school pictures, showing me with a long ponytail, then with a shorter bob, then missing front teeth, then having front teeth that were too large for my face, and of course, always the glasses. I remember the day I found out that I had to have glasses. I was in the second grade, and had to take part in the school-wide eye check. That check made my life a whole lot easier – or harder, if you take into account the teasing that a four-eyed chubby little girl gets.
Anyway, I sat down in the chair, but I couldn’t see any of the letters on the chart. I began crying, because I had failed the first test I had ever in my life failed. Mrs. Gladdin told me not to worry, that I just needed glasses. Sure enough, the cat-eye peach colored eyewear made seeing the chalkboard a whole lot easier.
When Emily started school, Max and I took pictures of her heading out the door each year. She loved starting school each fall as I had, especially those smells that say to me “Thayer Elementary” and said to her “Horace Mann.” Nowadays, everybody posts first day pictures on Facebook, and I try to look at all of them, longingly remembering taking those pictures of our daughter.
Yes, the beginning of school is a great time – except if a person lives in Kabul, Afghanistan, and is a student at the American University there. That part of the world hit me in the face again this week. Last week, a picture of a five-year-old Syrian boy broke my heart. Yesterday, it was a message from Mujeeb. He and I worked together in Kabul; we talked together in the cafeteria or occasionally in the office.
Mujeeb posted on Facebook, in beautiful English, that his sister and brother, both of whom are students at the American University, narrowly escaped death in the terrorist attack that took place Wednesday. Mujeeb and his family were frantic for four hours until they heard first from his brother, who had escaped by jumping “from the second floor, fracturing his hand and hurting his hip.” His brother said that the terrorists burst into the classroom and began throwing grenades. The window was the only way out.
Mujeeb’s sister, however, could not notify their family that she was safe until eight hours later. She told a harrowing tale of being trapped under several dead bodies on the third floor of the building, hearing her attackers calling someone to say that all the students in that room were dead. Much later, Special Forces cleared the building, escorting her to safety. Of course, Mujeeb and his family were elated that their loved ones were safe, but they mourned the loss of innocent life in the ruthless attack.
Such things happen also here at home. Remember that 32 students were killed by a terrorist at Virginia Tech in 2007, and while I was in Afghanistan, some lunatic broke into Sandy Hook Elementary School and murdered 26 people, including 20 little children.
We send our children to school joyfully, with new backpacks and new pencils and new crayons, expecting that they will be safe. And most of them are. We want those happy first day of school pictures to reflect the experiences they will have all year. So let’s say a little prayer: Keep them safe.
Deborah Mitchell is a a local attorney and a Municipal Court Judge.