Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - Sept. 3, 2010

The last "first day"

August 23 started as a hectic day. Nadja, our exchange student from 2005, had rejoined us this past summer to do a nursing internship in Manhattan and had to be at work by 8 a.m. Nadja's boyfriend Tim is also with us and has been doing an internship of his own with husband Art. They usually take the old junker Art affectionately calls "Blackie" to town, but it has had some old-age pains recently and he was not confident it would make it. It was the first day of classes at K-State, where I teach. And, to top it off, it was also the first day of school for youngest daughter Katie, and she needed to be at school early to help one of the teachers.

But the first day of school always brings one additional aspect that complicates matters even more. Every year since older daughter Mariya first stepped on the bus that took her to her first day of kindergarten, Art and I have been recording those first days. In most years, this involved going to the end of the street near our home and taking pictures and video of the kids - both ours and the neighbors' - waiting for the big yellow-orange "cheesebox" to arrive. Then there were a few more shots with the driver when the bus arrived, followed by some parting images.

Art, always with his mind on the "story" aspect, would then whisk me off to the school, where we could record the arrival of the buses and the kids marching into school.

The most challenging years were the ones when Katie was in grade school and Mariya was in high school. The bus would go first to the grade school in Riley to drop off the elementary school and middle school kids and then continue on to the high school to deliver the high school students. Taking pictures of the bus leaving the grade school and then trying to arrive at the high school before that same bus was a real challenge.

Somehow over the years we've pulled it off and this year was no different. Art told Nadja to take my van to get to work. Then, after I recorded Katie leaving home - this time with her driving the pickup rather than taking the bus, Art and I drove to the high school in his "Sunday" car - the one he uses only for road trips. Art had asked Katie to drive slowly so we could pass her and be ready for her arrival.

Katie had a request of her own. She asked Art to shoot a bit more video of happenings on the first day. She is planning to make a video record of the school year for the students in her class and what more reasonable place to start such a documentary film than with the first day of classes!

After all the picture taking and videotaping was done, the plan was for Art and me to drive home. Then he'd attempt to coax Blackie to where Nadja had left the van. If he made it, he'd come back and get Tim and me in the van and then return to Blackie. The two of them would go on to Art's work in Blackie, while I went to work. If Blackie didn't make it to town, then Art would call and I'd come and rescue him with his "Sunday" car.

But despite the intricate plan he dreamed up, what struck me the most was that it was our last "first day" of documenting our daughters' elementary and high school adventures.

For 20 years we've been documenting first days, but Monday was the last one. Katie is a senior this year. And that other little girl whose first "first day" started the tradition is now working on her master's degree and is not only taking classes, but is teaching them as well.

Those "first days" went by in a flash.

Left: Mariya boarding the "cheesebox" on her first day of school; right: Too slow with the camera on Mariya's last first day for the doors of the bus had already closed.

Left: Mariya and Katie wait for the bus on Katie's first day of school; right: Katie with her Lady GaGa styling arrives at school on her last first day driving the pickup.

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