She Is My Mother; On The First Day Of First Grade

I kept my eyes in my pockets

and I tried to dream. Anxious.

I fell without falling and startled

three times that night.

She put my clothes out

and we'd agreed what she'd pack,

That I would take the bus. White, 53.

She prepared me.

Like she did when the dentist said

"Its nothing, just a little pinch"

She told me already. It's a needle.

With medicine that numbs.

They put it right into your gums,

and it will hurt. But they have to.

So let them and be brave.

When they do it feels like

it will go all the way through.

She promised, it won't.

Keep your eyes in your pockets,

the lights will blind.

I tried.

All day. I observed and noticed.

Find your name, that is your desk.

Raise one finger for the bathroom.

"Stay in line, follow me."

Guided through a labyrinth

lit by long bulbs and decorated

by rules and rainbows.

Everything as she said, was.

I believed and trusted and stayed in line.

I was good.

I took my jacket from my cubby

and my backpack off the hook.

In my hand a sun-yellow paper bus, 79.

Then we bussers separated from

the walkers and I waded into the smell

of gasoline to watch the yellow and black parade.

I felt the cold brown leather beneath me

and watched through long windows

as familiar things faded.

I felt the worry tide rising

helpless to stop the bus.

I waited. I trusted. I tried.

Those were not my neighbors' houses

nor my neighbors waiting

for their happy kids home from school.

Last stop. I stepped down.

No one was waiting for me.

The breeze blew the last

kids home and sent the bus fumes on their way.

The air was wide and alone.

I looked around and saw nothing I knew.

Nothing I could place.

As every child in need,

I cried.

I tried.

She prepared me.

I knew her numbers.

I told them to a stranger in a

dimly lit kitchen, less clean than hers.

She came for me in socked feet.

She held me and I

put my eyes in my pockets.

We drove the one block to home.


As this poem describes, on the first day of first grade my elementary school sent me home on the wrong bus. The images I chose to relate the most the specific images of my memories. I remember vividly the feeling that I was headed the wrong way but was helpless to stop myself. I best recall the sights and smells of the events described in my poem. Because I was only five years old at the time, my memories were not situational or sequential. They were emotional and much of my experiences have been pieced back together by the images in my memories. I relate the presence of my mother throughout the poem but do not name her. In my life, she was ever present, and leaving her care to attend my first day of school, only to be mishandled and misguided made my reunion with her incredibly important. The specifics of my experience, the white and yellow bus names and numbers, and the classroom policies, are all true memories. I became lost, but because of the things my mother taught me, I was able to help her find me. She has always found me.

To be a lost child on the first day of first grade was transformative. I didn't trust other adults very well after that. I had bad dreams for years of being on a bus and watching neighborhoods that look like mine in the yard, but the house was wrong, or half the house was familiar and the other half wasn't. I felt an innate need for independence after that, and the need to care for myself, and to check and double check everything. I was only one block from home but at 3 feet tall, that's a long way.

My Mom moved away this year, and I miss her. I miss her, but I know that she is in me all the time with what she's taught me and who I have become because of her. I miss her, even though I can text her whenever I want. I can call her whenever I want. I think my missing her is really just missing her guiding hand, and the knowledge that if I get lost, she will come find me. She has always been able to find me, even in my darkest places.

This poem is dedicated to her, and every student struggling or lost. I hope this poem finds you, and brings you home.