They're obviously first-timers at this first day of school business -- teary-eyed, clingy, anxiously smiling, scared that they won't find the classroom (and what about the bathroom?!), worried that the teacher will be mean. Still they're trying really, really hard to be big boys and girls . . .
And these are the parents we're talking about.
"I felt like crying!" Beverly Ramsey said yesterday after taking her son, Dave Ramsey Montgomery, to his first day of kindergarten at Mount Washington Elementary School in Baltimore. "He's in school now, and it seems like he was born just a couple of days ago. When I came to register him and they said, 'We'll take care of your baby now,' I got this sinking feeling."
Like other parents who were dropping off their children to school for the first time, Ms. Ramsey seemed slightly dazed by the emotions caused by leaving her firstborn behind.
"I'll probably go in my office and shut the door and sulk for about three hours," she said, finishing up a midmorning snack that the school's parents group prepared for new parents to help them over the hump of the first day. "I'm just hoping by the time Mark goes to school," she added, gathering up her 3-year-old son, "I'll be over this."
Ms. Ramsey took time off from her job as senior systems programmer at the city school headquarters to take Dave to school in the morning, then a little more time to pick him up in the afternoon.
"It's the first day of school, you should be overjoyed. We're the ones who should have the long faces," Mount Washington's principal, Joe Wilson, gently teased new parents who had gathered in the school gym after depositing their children in their classrooms.
Still, he was empathetic because he remembered his own feelings when taking his son, now a second-grader, to school for the first time. "We're all in the same boat this morning," he reassured the parents.
Eva Glasgow found everyone at the school sympathetic on her son Evan's first day of kindergarten. "They understand it's a full-day program, and they're still babies and need a little hand-holding," Ms. Glasgow said as she, her husband Robert and their two younger children waited for Evan to come out at the end of the day.
"I paced a lot," she said of her own day. "I baked cookies and I couldn't wait until 2:30 to come."
But Evan reported his day went well -- "I only fussed a little" -- and decided he wanted to take the bus with the other children rather than walk home with his family.
Shirley Harden, principal of Hernwood Elementary School in Baltimore County, said that being part of the school system hadn't made it any easier when it came time to take her own four children to their first days of school. Especially her youngest, now 9 years old. "She's my baby, and next year, she'll be in middle school. I can't believe my baby is going to middle school!" Ms. Harden said with a laugh.
"You're a mother first," the principal said. "I tell [parents] that I remember when I took my daughter to kindergarten, and, since I have a job that requires me to be here, I couldn't be in her school with her either. I made sure, though, that I was home early so I could be there for her. I tell parents, if they can, take the afternoon off, you'll be getting the greatest reward if you're there when they come home."
After nine years as a principal, Ms. Harden says she "can always tell the new ones" when she meets a group of parents.
"It's funny because some of them will just come out and say, 'I'm so nervous, he's my baby.' And some of them won't say anything, but you can see it in their eyes. They're concerned about the bus, or the fact that this is his first time away from them," she said. "But what they're really concerned about is, 'Are you going to know what to do for him if he looks like he's hurt or if he gets a boo-boo?' "
Dee Bradel, whose daughter Amanda started kindergarten at Hernwood yesterday, was initially concerned about the first day at what her daughter calls "big girls' school" because her family is new to the neighborhood, having recently moved from Howard County.
"She doesn't know too many kids out here," Ms. Bradel said last week, "so it's really something new for her."
It was reassuring, then, when Amanda found two girls in her class whom she had seen before in the neighborhood, said Ms. Bradel, who took yesterday morning off from her job as an executive secretary at Turf Valley. She wanted to accompany Amanda to school, "so she doesn't feel I'm just dumping her off," shesaid, "and also to make myself feel better about it, too.
Indeed, reassuring parents seemed to be as much a part of the kindergarten day yesterday as getting kids introduced to school.
At Mount Washington, many of the kindergarten parents stayed with their children for about the first half-hour before slipping away -- somewhat reluctantly, it seemed.