Delta Winds: A Magazine of Student
My first day in school was one that I will never forget. Here I was, just five years old and living only two blocks from the school, yet I didn't know what school was. My loving parents, who are first-generation Mexican immigrants, believed in the "need to know" rule. So I guess we did not need to know about school. And, as was the case with many second-generation families, we only spoke Spanish. So our world was just that much smaller.
A large, fenced-in playground surrounded the imposing, large, gray building. Every day we saw the children walk into the building, but we never knew why. You could hear the noise of the children playing, and then the noise would stop. What they did was a mystery. And since we were not allowed to leave our own little sheltered world, the mystery continued. The fence that kept us inside also kept the other children out. And even though the school was just down the street, it might just as well have been miles away.
One morning, Mother pulled out a new dress for me to wear, as well as my pretty, gray coat with the shiny buttons. I asked if we were going someplace special, but she stated Father and I would be going to SCHOOL. At that moment, I did not know if I should be happy or sad. But then I thought, what was school? When I asked her, the response was that I would have fun. Fun by myself did not seem possible. When Father arrived, I hid in the bedroom, but he quickly took me by the hand and marched me to the school. I was surprised that behind the gray building was a small, wooded, white house with its own little, fenced-in yard. It looked almost like home, but the yard was bigger. Even though it looked like home, I still did not know why I was here. Fear set in.
At the gate, I met Mrs. Smith, a tall kindly-looking lady, whose blue eyes sparkled behind her glasses, but who was a stranger. Father had a brief conversation with her. Then he turned around and said, "Adios y portate bien." Why was he saying good-bye and to behave myself? As he walked away, all I could think of was that he was abandoning me. My parents no longer wanted me. Despite my pleas, he just quickly walked away. Worst of all, I was left with a woman who spoke no Spanish.
I recall that Mrs. Smith walked me into the little schoolhouse where all the other children were sitting in little chairs. More abandoned children! Yet they seemed happy, sitting at the small tables cutting out pretty little shapes from colorful paper. The teacher walked towards the back of the room and spoke to me, but since I didn't understand her, I just stood there and stared at her. Much later, I understood that she wanted me to hang up my coat. I strongly protested her unbuttoning my coat. In the end, she left me, and I sat down on the bench and watched all the activities.
The teacher went to the front of the class. As she spoke, the children turned around and waved at me. All I could do was cry. Some of them would giggle, make comments to one another, and stare at me. What did I do? Cry some more. Tears flowed constantly. I don't know how long I sat there before Mrs. Smith took my hand and placed me at the head of the line. I soon found out that it was time to go outside. As the other children ran and played, I stayed near the gate, looking out, hoping to see my parents. They never came. After a while, I just gave up and sat on the steps. Soon the class was lining up and walking back inside.
I remember Mrs. Smith's smile as she walked me to a table at the front of the room. She said my name and pointed to the chair. I now had my own little chair. The morning progressed. Sometime during this time, they served us milk. Warm Milk! I hated milk, especially warm milk. Nevertheless, I drank it. After all, if the other children could do it, so could I. Once the milk was picked up and put away, a new activity started. The chairs and tables were moved to one side. Then, one by one, the children pulled out small, little, black mattresses. This was very strange. In amazement, I watched as they laid them out flat and proceeded to lie down. Soon the lights were dimmed, and everyone was quiet. Soft music played in the background as Mrs. Smith read from a book. Afterwards she just sat at her desk, and I watched in horror. I cried again. How could they sleep like that -- on the floor, no blankets, and in the middle of the day? Very odd. It seemed like an eternity. Finally the lights came on. The children jumped up and picked up their mats. All the while, they talked and laughed. How could they be happy? Didn't they miss their parents? What about their siblings? Very strange.
Once more we lined up. I was again taken to the front of the line, and I held on to Mrs. Smith's hand as we all walked out. As she took us out the door, I saw my mother standing behind the gate with all the other parents. I broke away and ran to her. With tears in my eyes, I said, "Thank you for coming to get me." She looked surprised and asked if I had had a fun time. I turned around and saw Mrs. Smith smiling and waving at me; I waved back and knew that I would be all right.
As the days progressed, I learned the school routine as well as the language. As children, we have the tremendous capability to adapt to new situations quickly. That is what I did. I quickly adapted. It took some time, but I did learn to speak and understand English. Surprisingly, most of my initial English language lessons came from my classmates. I finally had fun, and I did learn.
Over the years, I have tried to forget that terrible first day, but it is still there in the corner of my mind. As my children were growing up, I tried to give them positive attitudes about school. Not only was it going to be fun, but they would also learn many new subjects as well as meet and make new friends. On their first day, after I met their teacher, I was politely told that I could leave. As I walked away, a tear flowed down, not for my babies who were growing up, but for the five-year-old who long ago sat at that bench. All those years ago.