What Not to Do on the First Day of School
The author is a mother of six. This is an excerpt of the book “Golden Times,” which she and her two youngest wrote together between 2000 and 2007. The artwork was created by her daughter, Nicole, when she was 11.
Matthew Golden awoke dazzled with disbelief. His first official day of school had finally arrived! It was an event he had dreamed of for two years, ever since his big sister, Augustina, started her education.
He happily pulled back his covers and jumped out of bed. He felt inspired by the streaks of morning sunlight that streamed brightly across the carpeted floor.
Matt yawned, then stretched before putting on his brand new school clothes. Today’s outfit was a crisp white shirt, dark blue pants, white leather sneakers, and bright white athletic socks. After he was dressed, he reached down and stuck his arms through the straps of his stiff, new, blue-and-white bookbag. He looked in the mirror, and mouthed the word “wow” when he saw how much he looked like a real student.
Still gazing at his new-and-improved reflection, Matt practiced standing straight and tall. He wanted to make a good impression on his teacher, Miss Gray. He closed his eyes, and pictured how important he would look sitting at a classroom table, writing numbers and letters, reading, and listening to Miss Gray’s melodic voice.
Two years ago, when Gusty was in kindergarten, Matt had accompanied his mother on many class outings because she was a Room Parent. He felt as though he had the upper hand when it came to knowing about school.
An hour later, Matt’s dream of sitting in Miss Gray’s classroom evolved into reality.
When his pretty mommy delivered Gusty to her new second-grade teacher, Mrs. Halston, his older sister gently grabbed his arm. “Make sure you always listen to Miss Gray, Matt, and you’ll do just fine in school. She’s a very nice teacher.” She gave him a good-luck-little-brother hug before she walked spryly into her new classroom.
He waved good-bye, then continued on to his education destination, holding his Mommy’s hand tightly. She led him up a short flight of steps, then turned right, and they walked down a long hallway to the kindergarten and first grade area.
Miss Gray smiled warmly when she saw Matt’s familiar little face. She had not forgotten the day two years ago, when he showed up in her class, asking to sit with his big sister. “Young man, I am very happy that you’re in my classroom.” She reached out and shook his hand.
“Me too,” agreed Matt. “I’m going to be a good student, Miss Gray. Just ask my Mommy.” He gestured toward Jenny Golden, who was beginning to feel pangs of sadness at the idea of parting with her precious little boy for the first time.
“You’re going to be a great student, Matthew.” Miss Gray bade Jenny farewell. Then she told Matt, “You’ll be at the blue table. Follow me.”
As he trailed behind Miss Gray, Matt waved to the other children seated at the green, red and yellow tables. His goal was to make lots of friends, so he decided to be as sociable as possible. Some of his new classmates waved back, others were too busy looking around to notice him.
Matt removed his bookbag, set it on the floor next his char, and sat down at his fresh, blue table. He noticed that his Mommy was watching him through the classroom window. She smiled feebly, waved her fingers at him, then turned and walked away.
Matt felt tears brimming in his eyes at the sight of her leaving him with a roomful of unknown children. For a sliver of a moment, he regretted that this was his first day of school, and he longed to be at home in his room, digging through his overflowing toy box.
Then the bell rang, school formally began, and he forgot all about his apprehensions.
As the day progressed, Matt felt more at ease in his surroundings. The more he relaxed, the more superior he felt for two reasons: First, because he already knew all 26 letters, and how to read simple words. Second, because he had spent a good deal of time in this very classroom two years ago. He already knew where lots of things were, like the sink, the big alphabet letters, and the basket of snacks under the teacher’s desk.
Later that morning, Miss Gray asked for a volunteer. “Do any of you know your way to the school’s main office?” she asked the class.
Matt raised his hand eagerly, hoping she would pick him.
Miss Gray felt glad to see that Matthew Golden’s hand was raised. He should know his way to the office, she reasoned, he’s been to Northside School many times. She really wanted to send a classroom assistant on this mission, but they were both busy tending to the new first grade students.
To Matt’s delight, his wish was granted, even though he wasn’t exactly sure of the office’s location. Miss Gray called him to the front of the class, and handed him a large manila envelope.
“When you get there, give this to the lady at the front desk, the turn around and come straight back to this room, okay Matthew? Are you sure you know how to get to the office?”
Matt grinned. “Yes, Miss Gray. I’ve been there lots of times with my Mommy.” In his heart, he knew this was only a half-truth. He had been to the main office lots of times with his Mommy, but he had no idea how to get there from Miss Gray’s classroom.
“I’m trusting you Matt,” his teacher told him. He walked confidently out the door, and down the long hallway. He recalled that his Mommy had turned right when they entered the upper level, so when he reached the end of the hallway, he did just that. He turned right.
But he should have turned left.
Matt found himself walking down a much shorter hallway that ended abruptly, forcing him to go either right or left. He selected right again, reasoning that a right turn originally got him to his kindergarten classroom.
Matt spied a doorway on the left that looked like it might be the office. He walked up to it and read the word “Staff.” He wondered exactly what that meant, but didn’t have time to figure it out. He knew the word office started with the letter O and possibly some F’s, so it was definitely not the right place to deliver the important envelope.
He turned around the way he came to see if the office was at the other end of the unknown hall. Matt felt relieved to find a door at the opposite end of the quiet, dim hallway that had the letters O and F in all the right places. It read: Office of Maintenance.
He slowly pulled the very heavy door open, wondering how kids were supposed to get into the office when the door weighed at least a thousand pounds. He managed to open it just enough to slip through the doorway. It whooshed closed behind him.
He was standing on a small landing, surrounded by gray railings. A steep metal stairway leading downward was on his left. He turned, grabbed the handrail, and began his descent. Matt thought it was odd that he didn’t remember this many steps to get from one floor to the next when his mommy led him to his classroom.
Meanwhile, Miss Gray was beginning to wonder why her pupil had been gone ten minutes without yet returning. He didn’t strike her as the troublesome type, but sometimes it was difficult to read a student’s personality on the first day of school. She stepped out of the room, and summoned a teacher’s assistant from the first grade classroom next door.
The tall, young woman listened to Miss Gray’s instructions, then left in hurry. She returned moments later, and whispered to the worried teacher that Matthew Golden had never arrived at the school office.
One full floor below the frightened Miss Gray, Matt stepped onto the cold, concrete floor of the school’s basement, near the main boiler system. He looked around, realized he was absolutely nowhere near the office, and started to cry.
A huge room filled with humongous machinery loomed straight ahead. The putrid green, multi-limbed thing in front of him looked like a big metal monster that might attack him at any moment. It was the most terrifying sight he had ever seen.
“AAAAUUUUUGGGGGHHHH,” he screamed.
Huge hands grabbed his shoulders, just as he was about to bolt upstairs to escape the green metal monster.
“What’s gong on here?” a husky male voice asked.
Matt broke away from the grip on his shoulders, and turned to face the Scariest Man Ever Born.
The giant towered above him, dressed in a dark blue utility suit. His face was covered with a long, brown beard, and he stared at the petrified Matt with piercing dark eyes.
“Who are you, the new janitor?” the bearded man asked.
The man’s humor was lost on Matt, who just wailed louder.
The huge, uniformed man dropped to one knee so that he could see the little boy’s face. “There’s no need to cry like that.” He pulled a clean paper towel out of his jacket pocket, and handed it to the tearful little guy.
Matt wiped his eyes and shook his head vehemently. “I’m not the new janitor.”
The man asked in a more subtle voice, “Then where are you from, young man?”
Between sobs he replied, “I was supposed to bring this envelope to the office, but I got lost.”
The man made a “tsk tsk” sound and said, “You certainly did. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a student as young as you down here before.”
Although tears were still forming in his eyes, Matt’s sobbing had subsided. He asked, “Am I still inside the school?”
The man chuckled at the boy’s innocent, but silly question.
“Yes, you’re still inside the school. But this is a special part of the school, and not very many people know about it,” he explained.
“That huge machine is scaring me,” Matt said, “It’s really ugly and noisy.”
“Aw, that’s just a big old boiler system, it won’t hurt you.” The man smiled at the youngster, who tried to smile back.
Upstairs, news of the missing student rippled through the school. Every student, teacher, and worker in the building was put on alert. Except one.
Mr. Parker in the boiler room didn’t hear the emergency announcement due to the high level of noise emanating from the huge machinery. He also did not hear the phone ringing on his desk, in another part of the lower level. He was trying to calm down a frightened, crying child. His goal was to figure out where the youngster was supposed to be, so he could help him get there.
Mr. Parker’s pager started beeping. He stood up, and without looking, he reached down and pushed a button to make it stop.
“Time to get back to work,” he said wearily. “They’re probably looking for me in the office, so I better get upstairs.”
“Can I come too?” Matt asked, alarmed at the notion of being left alone in the basement.
“Sure. I’d never leave my new janitor alone in a place like this. Besides, I’ll bet the people in the school office would like to see you.”
Matt smiled proudly. “I know they would.” He looked up at the man, and decided that maybe he wasn’t so scary looking after all. In the youngster’s eyes, the man’s kind, helpful personality definitely outshined his semi-frightening appearance.
Mr. Parker managed to conceal his smile behind his thick beard.
Hand-in-hand, they ascended the metal steps. Mr. Parker opened the heavy door for Matt, then escorted him through the maze of hallways that led to the office. A short distance from their destination, two lines of fourth grade students were waiting outside the gymnasium. Matt marveled at how grown up they looked. He saw two girls start whispering to each other, then talking to others around them.
In a matter of seconds, most of the students in line were pointing and gawking at Matt. They all realized that he was the Missing Student everybody was talking about.
Matt waved at them, and they all waved back. He silently congratulated himself for being able to get so many older students to notice him. It was apparent that acting friendly, and waving to other Northsiders was truly a good thing to do.
Just before they arrived at the office, Matt spotted a rest room.
He tugged on Mr. Parker’s sleeve to get his attention, then explained to the older man that he needed to make a quick lavatory stop.
Mr. Parker stopped walking and pointed toward a set of double doors. “When you’re done in there, just go straight to those big doors up ahead. That’s the office,” Mr. Parker told Matt. Then he shook his hand. “It was a pleasure meeting you, young man.” He winked at the youngster, then continued toward the office.
Matt entered the one-person rest room, closed the door, and locked it, just like his Daddy taught him. He carelessly tossed the envelope on top of the paper towel machine.
Before leaving, Matt washed and dried his hands. He didn’t notice the yellow envelope corner sticking out from the top of the towel dispenser, just above his eye level.
He opened the door, feeling refreshed, and took several steps before he realized that something was wrong. He was no longer carrying the envelope Miss Gray had given him before he left her classroom, which was starting to feel like a really long time ago. He frowned, struggling to remember where last saw it, wondering if he had dropped it in the basement.
The bell for third period rang while Matt was in the rest room, so the school’s long hallways were deserted. He made it to the end of the main hall unnoticed, then turned left, looking for the “other” office door that led to the metal steps.
As Matt rounded the corner, Mr. Parker showed a group of nervous adults where he had last seen the missing child. Among them were Miss Gray, Principal Manning, Jenny Golden, and the gym teacher, Mrs. Stamm.
“He went in here.” The chief maintenance man gestured toward the rest room.
The principal knocked on the closed door, but there was no response. He knocked again, then gently opened the door, presuming that a stray kindergarten boy was hiding inside. He turned on the light, looked around, and realized that Matt wasn’t in the small room.
“There’s the envelope I gave him,” Miss Gray said excitedly. “At least we know he was here.”
The gym teacher added, “When my students saw him, they said he was carrying a big envelope. Why did he leave it here?”
“That’s a good question, let’s think about it for a minute,” suggested Jenny, who could barely believe that her brilliant little son was lost somewhere in the school.
“Miss Gray, did you say that Matt was supposed to deliver this envelope to the school office?” Jenny felt an imaginary light bulb above her head as an idea formed in her mind.
“Yes, and I’m so sorry, Mrs. Golden. Matthew assured me he knew where the office was, or I would have never let him go,” she explained.
“I understand, Miss Gray, please don’t worry. ” Jenny turned her attention to Mr. Parker and asked, “Where was he before you dropped him off at this rest room?”
“From what I gather, the little guy was looking for the school office, took a wrong turn, and ended up in the basement boiler room,” he related. “I was surprised to find him down there, carrying that big envelope, crying, because he was scared of the big machines.”
Jenny’s heart melted as she listened to Mr. Parker’s tale.
“So I helped him calm down, brought him upstairs, and dropped him off right here. I was taking him to the office, but he said he needed to use the rest room.”
Jenny knew where her son was. “Mr. Parker, would you lead us to the basement? He may have gone back there to look for the envelope.”
Much to everyone’s delight, her guess was correct.
They found Matt standing at the bottom of the metal steps, looking forlorn.
Jenny ran to him and gave him a big, loving hug. She was grateful that he was safe.
Matt wasn’t sure why all these people were so glad to see him, but he was relieved that they all looked happy. He interpreted this as a sign that he wasn’t going to get in trouble for going to the wrong office.
“Miss Gray, I’m sorry. I lost the envelope,” Matt told his teacher, feeling sad about his unsuccessful mission.
She smiled, and consoled her confused student. “It’s okay Matthew, we found the envelope, and we found you too!”
Matt remembered something. “Mommy, I made lots of friends today,” he exclaimed happily. “I waved at a bunch of really old students and they all waved back!”
“Yes Matt, I heard,” his mother told him. “In fact, everybody in the school has heard about you,” she added. “Right now, we need to get upstairs, and let your sister know that you’re safe. She thinks you’re still missing, so she’s worried.”
Matt smirked, and waved his arm graciously. “Mommy, she doesn’t need to worry,” he said grandly. “I knew exactly where I was the whole time. I was lost!”