We’re driving the short distance from our house to Archie’s school. It’s his first day, ever, and I’m conflicted, because I’m battling an overpowering sadness at the same time that I’m sharing in his excitement and feeling a level of pride that I generally only ever feel when leading the line dance Nutbush – to Tina Turner’s Nutbush City Limits – at family parties.
As we pull up to the school I use a hearty, ‘Let’s go Arch,’ to clear the emotion in my voice and we exit the car – Reservoir Mum, Arch, Lewy, Tys and Me – and stop for some photos in front of the school’s sign, and while I watch him moving around awkwardly, balancing forward with his giant backpack, I realize that this moment is as mundane as it is momentous, because although it will happen to just about every family, and to just about everyone, it will only happen three times to our family, and to Archie only once.
I have all three boys in the car with me and Archie is still buzzing. He loves school. He has new friends – Aiden, Monique and Jacob (who has shoes that make him go very fast). He’s so special, and I’m aware of the fairy dust in that statement even as I think it, but he’s right there, a firecracker in my rear vision mirror, chatting, smiling, humming and gyrating in his seat. I can’t help but think that he looks so cool in his oversized uniform, which I am pleased to say is a combination of blue, aqua and maroon, and all that I could think to add to it would be a Members Only Jacket and possibly a nice set of Ray-Ban Wayfarer Sunglasses.
On the way out of the grounds, the principal asks me to put in an application to join the school council. I suggest that she might want to reconsider that request when she sees The Preston Leader Newspaper. ‘No,’ she says, ‘If you can get into the paper, you might be able to help us with fundraisers.’ I suddenly see the entire school wearing Reservoir Dad T-shirts. I could change the world.
While we’re waiting, before school, Archie tells me he has more friends now - Aiden, Monique, Jacob (who has shoes that make him go very fast), Bo (who has yellow hair), and Jai (whose hair is orange). Then he says, ‘Dad, two girls here really, really, like me,’ and I laugh and say, ‘Of course they do, Arch.’
The preliminary bell – which is always music that signals the preps to line up with their class against the wall – is a droll, depressing, country-ish type song, which I find to be not only distasteful, but potentially damaging to young minds. I tell Archie to cover his ears as he joins his classmates and I make a note to change the music to something more appropriately rousing, like Run DMC’s It’s Tricky, once I am elected to the school council.
Even though this is predominantly Archie’s journey, I am his most regular tag-along, and it’s opening a whole new world to me. Every morning and afternoon, there’s a mass of parental variety waiting at the bottom of the school steps – business suits, moccasins, tattoos, tank tops, dark mascara over beige foundation, tired eyes carrying dark bags, frowns that have been worn all day long, smiles – the genuine and the forced, and the conversations I overhear range from the trivial to the semi-serious, and from the polite to the gossipy and underhanded.
I’m wearing board shorts and a gym shirt stained by this morning’s bacon and eggs. If I were to categorize myself among the parents I would place myself in the scruffy group, but I don’t care, because Archie appears at the top of the steps and he’s waving at me, and I’m his Dad, and we know – more than anyone else – how cool we are.
I watch Archie disappear inside a classroom, again, and then I wander up the hallway to the office and nominate myself for the school council because today’s Preliminary Bell song was Keith Urban’s Kiss A Girl which made me wish I’d skipped breakfast, and the fear that Archie may return to me at the end of the day humming it, is enough to make me break out into a cold sweat.
As I arrive at the school steps to pick up Archie I catch sight of him getting a kiss on the cheek from two girls who are way older than him – Grade 3 or possibly even Grade 4. While we’re walking to the car, he says, ‘They’re the girls that really like me,’ and I say, ‘Arch, you are cute, smart and funny. Of course, those girls really like you,’ and when he drops his vision, looking a little confused, and replies, ‘I know,’ I see, right there, that he’s already on his own path, growing away from me, and there’s nothing I can do about it.
I pick him up, kiss him and hug him, because there’s a strong chance that I won’t be able to do that when he’s going to his first day at University, and I can even anticipate the day coming, when I take him to high school and he says, ‘Dad, just drop me off around the corner, no one likes your 80’s music. It’s embarrassing,’ and the only thing to help me deal with that likelihood is to gather the family in the living room and pump up Tina Turner’s Nutbush City Limits, as often as I can, because I’m a proud Daddy and I do the Nutbush really, really well.