I was awake before the alarm sounded, already pulling on my socks and walking shoes. It was The First Day of School, and my thoughts were swirling as I walked out the door for my morning walk. I rounded the corner and headed swiftly down the block, constantly aware that it was important to hurry this morning in order to get to school extra early. I was halfway to the corner when I started to hear the low rumble of…something. In my muddled, nervous state of mind I thought maybe the garbage trucks were on the next street over. But as other walkers came towards me and urged me to hurry, I realized that the sky to the west was a tiny bit darker than the rest. It was the rumble of thunder that I heard. I evaluated my options. It was too far to turn around and grab an umbrella from home. By the time I did that, there wouldn’t be time to do my whole route. I decided to go on and try to beat the rain. It really didn’t seem like a big deal–the dark clouds were distant.
I walked even faster, continuing to think through the day ahead of me. It was my first day as an Instructional Coach, and while I knew I wouldn’t be welcoming my own students into a classroom I would be welcoming all our students back to school. I was excited to think about the days ahead and apprehensive about the challenges of my new position. As I reached the halfway point, my thoughts were interrupted by fat raindrops plopping all around me. I pumped up the pace. But after a few moments, I resigned myself to getting wet from the rain—rationalizing that a warm shower would feel great when I got home.
As I approached my driveway, the rain was still no more than a heavy sprinkle. I grabbed my garage door opener and pointed it at the house, more than ready for that hot shower. Nothing happened. I shook it a little bit in disbelief and tried again.
I started to pace a little bit in the rain, pointing the door opener upwards and pressing the button with more intensity. I began mumbling to myself, walking back and forth in the beginning of a panic. Surely this couldn’t be happening! I took the batteries out, wiped them on my shirt and put them back in. Still no juice. The door did not move.
I was in trouble. I was locked outside my house on The First Day of School wearing only a t-shirt and shorts. I had no cell phone. I had no spare keys. I had no ideas.
And then the sky opened in a downpour. In a few short seconds I was huddled under the garage overhang, flattened against the door, pressing desperately on the remote button and hollering “Come ON!”
I also realized I had no way of knowing what time it was. I had my walk planned to get home just in time to get ready and go on to school. By now I must have lost 15-20 minutes to my predicament. If it took much longer to get in, I was going to be seriously late! (On The FIRST Day of School…)
By now, my normally shy composure had vanished. I left the relative safety of the overhang, grabbed the blue plastic wrapper from around the newspaper on the front porch, wrapped my garage door opener in it and splashed through the yard to my neighbor’s house. I rang the doorbell and knocked loudly on the door. No answer. I gave up and ran across the street to another neighbor. No answer again! I stood in the middle of the road in the pouring rain and frantically tried to come up with a plan.
In desperation, I started down the block once again, heading for a neighbor who was sure to be home. All I needed at this point was a phone, a towel, and a whole lot of sympathy. And perhaps a ride back home.
I had just turned the corner when a car slowed beside me. It was my good friend, delivering her dogs to the sitter for the day. She lowered her window and looked at me in amazement. Through my angry tears I explained what had happened. She urged me to hop in the car and she would get me some help.
As I sat in the front seat, shivering with cold, my wet hair plastered to my face and soaked from top to bottom, I noticed the clock on the dash. It was hopeless to think that I would get to school on time. I asked my friend if we could just stop at school so I could let them know I would be late. We took the route back past my house just to try the door opener one more time, but it was no use. I was still locked out, with no response from the garage door at all.
By this time it had stopped raining. As we approached the school, the yard was filling fast with students dressed in their First Day finest, carrying shiny new backpacks and lunchboxes. As my friend pulled into the parking lot, I burst out of the passenger seat and started walking towards the principal, who was greeting parents and students on the sidewalk. A wide-eyed little boy took a few steps back at my dripping, frantic approach and said incredulously, “Miss…Schuitema??”
I looked at the boy and my principal and helplessly wailed, “I’m having a PROBLEM!!”
That is the moment I will always remember. Standing in the front yard of the school, soaking wet, frustrated and embarrassed—my First Day dreams crushed into a sodden mess while all around me happy children (clean, dry children) milled about on their way into the building. It was the worst First Day ever.
The rest of my morning was a tough climb back into normalcy. Thanks to my friend, I got to a phone and was given a towel and lots of sympathy. A locksmith was able to get into my house through another door. I finally got that hot shower and made my way to school. Although a little disoriented in my sense of schedule, I kept most of my appointments and went into various classrooms to introduce myself to students and read them a story. In one classroom I found the little boy who had seen me get out of the car. He smiled and nodded at me when I said, “I look better now, right?”
I would not have believed it then, but the Worst First Day has turned into one of the best. I have a fantastic story to tell students when we talk about writing about our lives and true things that have happened to us. It took me a LONG time to be able to laugh about it…but now I’m there. Mostly.
And I hope such a thing NEVER happens again!!
This story happened two years ago, on The First Day of School. This is the first time I have written it down, now that the sting has gone out of it a bit! Tomorrow morning (on this year’s First Day of School) I will tell this story to my new second graders as they start telling their own stories. It will be the first of many “Scootie Stories” I will tell as we learn to laugh and write together this year. And it goes without saying that I fervently hope that tomorrow I arrive at school clean, dry, on time, and happy—ready for the kind of First Day we all dream about! (For starters, I have watched the weather report and will NOT be taking a walk in the morning…)