To my son on his first day of school

I can’t stop crying. It’s all because of that damn Bubble Bobble.

This morning your mother made me walk the plank. She wanted you to have the cleanest break possible on this day—your first real day of school—and at this stage you’re needier around her than you are with me. That’s been true as long as we can remember, but I’m assuming most children have that attachment to their mothers at this point. Her emotions and your potential nervousness would be a less-than-stellar transition into school and we want you to love this day, to run straight into it with the energy you can. So I walked the plank.

I was okay on the way there—a whole two houses down from the school that will be your educational home for the next nine years. My mind was more occupied by where to go—Where was that classroom again? We were just here for some orientation, right?—and the swirl of elementary energy. A few flashbacks of my own years in school came and went while, at the same time, I looked for an understanding face.

Can you give me the room for Ms. Roome? No pun intended, unless it encourages you to actually help me.

We turned the corner and I recognized it. Your home for the next nine months. An assistant was there to help you find your way, and suddenly you’re sitting in a circle giving introductions like a recovery group that also passes pictures of your pets at home. My job was done that quick although I was hesistant to give it up. I asked several times if you were really okay—Do we get his lunch out of his bag? Any school supplies needed right now? Want me to stick around in case something happens?—but I was shooed out the door. People who go to school for this sort of thing were in the same room, so I left.

I kept my composure until I got back in the door. Then I saw that damn Bubble Bobble screen.

It’s paused right now on level 67 or some such number. You and your mother were playing it on this morning to kill time until we had to walk you over. When I was ready to go, she paused it and now it flashes there, a black screen with white scores serving as proof of an entire stage of life when we just woke up and played and went to bed and started all over again the next day. Your biggest worries up until now were playground or pool, to invite friends along or not. At this age, you are always accessible, always needy, always desiring of our time and attention.

Watch this, daddy.

Will you play with me, mommy?

Do you want to play Bubble Bobble?

Now we’ve paused that stage. At some point today, one of us will go turn it off and that screen will disappear and the analogy will feel a bit too real and I’ll start crying again.

That damn game.

* * *

I knew I would write this to you, a letter to you on your first day of school, when I heard the idea from a Buzzfeed article. (Buzzfeed, in case it’s not around, is a prominent website that likely disappeared like MySpace and Geocities and Friendster that posted stories like this). All I remember from the story shared with me by your mother was that someone wrote their son or daughter a letter every year or maybe every first day of school. Something like that. The idea was to gather them all and give them to you at adulthood, a cool memento to have when it means something.

I knew instantly I would copy this idea for a couple reasons (none of which was to be in Buzzfeed):
1. I am a writer by trade—at least at this stage of my life—so this is easy for me.
2. I need a way to channel these feelings.
3. I would move heaven and earth if it meant having something like this from my own father.

When I finally give this to you, it might hold some meaning but likely not as much as it will later on in life, if/when you have your own children. It’s then that you will have things to say without the words to express them. You’ll feel all manner of emotion without knowing why it’s all so overwhelming. You’ll want to say a million things but only end up uttering, “Ready, bud?”

* * *

When I started thinking about writing this a few days ago in anticipation of at least some of these emotions, I started mentally capturing some favorite recent events. The best parts of life with you aren’t the major events or most hilarious stories, although those are fun to remember. Instead, it’s the snapshots from this time that I know I will miss the most. Four keep swirling about:

-A few nights ago, your mom put you to bed and the sheets were cool. She came downstairs and told me your words, “This feels good. Like a thousand popsicles.”

-I took you to a friend’s birthday party over the weekend (Rueben, in case you remember him a dozen years from now) at a place called BounceU. The room was overwhelmed with cake-fed kids in myriad bounce houses and you stopped at every moment to say thank you to the workers—for the bouncing, for the pizza, for the cake. Small gestures, to be sure, but I was so proud.

-Sometimes you’re gross and ask me to hold some used band-aid from your pocket while you play. I disposed of it in the trash and then you came back 2 minutes later with a different used band-aid from another pocket and said, “This one, too.”

-I read First Dog to you before bed the other night (just about the worst children’s book ever) and the phrase “pampered pooch” came up. I couldn’t finish the book because you wouldn’t stop laughing. “Pampered pooch! That sounds so silly!” You made me laugh and so we just shut the book and kept laughing and repeating the phrase.

You called me a pampered pooch yesterday.

* * *

If I am healthy and you are healthy, I’m positive that every iteration of this letter moving forward will be filled with the same general sentiments. You are loved. We are proud. Here are the reasons why those things will always be true.

You might not need 12 different letters that generally say the same thing but I need to write them. I need a way to say on days like this how much I love you, how much I love being your father, how much I appreciate the daily challenge of being given this position, how much you bring your mother and I together. You are insightful and funny. You are warm and intelligent. You are full of endless surprises and even if none of these things were true, we’d find an entirely different list of reasons why you’re so special and important to us.

I hope today is filled with joy at every turn, that you come home raving about new friends, new teachers, new experiences. I want you to love learning like I do. I want you to grow in ways that you cannot at home. I want you to flourish and being away from me will definitely help you with that.

Now I have to go turn off the video game that you left on.

I love you. I always will.