Tuesday, September 7, 1982

"Who's ready for first day of school pancakes?" Al called from the stove as he flipped pancakes from the griddle onto the stack on the plate resting on the counter. He had on a ruffled apron protecting his khakis, which made the twins giggle as they came into the kitchen. Michele and Bridget were starting kindergarten at Christ the King and he had taken the morning off to be there for bringing them to their first day of school.

Al turned to face them with the platter as they sat at the breakfast table. He proudly smiled at their blue plaid jumpers and white Peter Pan collar blouses with matching white knee socks above their black and white saddle shoes. Michele had decided on wearing her hair in pigtails while Bridget requested a French braid.

"You look ready for school," he commented as he placed pancakes on their plates. "Do you feel ready?"

"Yes, Daddy," declared Michele while Bridget mumbled, "I guess so."

Grace and Theresa came into the kitchen now, both in playclothes, and Bridget sighed as they took their seats at the breakfast table.

"What's the matter, Bree?" I asked, softly brushing her cheek. "You were so excited for school last night."

"Resa and Grace still get to have fun with you all day."

"Oh, sweetheart," I said, "you're going to have fun, too! Don't you remember all the neat things Miss Silvestri had in her classroom when we went to 'Meet the Teacher' night?"

"There was a dress up corner and play kitchen, remember, Bree?" Michele said right before shoving a forkful of pancake into her mouth.

Bridget just shrugged halfheartedly, sighing and resting her cheek on her fist. She poked at her pancakes, watching the syrup soak into the spongey surface as I served Theresa and Grace. Al added the final batch of hot pancakes from the griddle to the platter and noticed that Bridget hadn't touched her breakfast.

"You're not nervous are you, sweetie?" he asked, gently tousling her bangs.

"I just want to stay home and have fun all day like Resa and Grace. I don't want to go to school."

Al sat down next to our eldest and touched her shoulder. "It's okay to be nervous, Bree," he said, having noted that by not answering his question she answered it. "But you need to eat some breakfast, baby girl, so that you'll have energy to have fun in kindergarten today. And you will have fun, I promise."

Bridget studied his face. "Cross your heart?"

"Cross my heart." Al swiped a finger over his heart in an x.

Theresa watched them as she dutifully chewed on her mouthful of pancake. "I wish I could go to school," she commented with her mouth full.

"I wish Bree and Sheli stay home," Grace said. "No one leave."

Al was fixing himself a plate of pancakes now. "It's important to go to school and learn things when it's time. And it's time for Bree and Sheli to go to kindergarten." He looked over at me and smiled as he noticed the tears I was brushing from my eyes. "Even if some of us aren't ready quite yet," he gently teased.

"Daddy's right," I said after clearing my throat. "Bree, eat your pancakes, baby."

"These are yumola, Daddy!" enthused Michele. "Thank you!"

"You're welcome." Al grinned at her. "I know you and Bree are gonna have a great day at kindergarten today."

Bridget had finally begun eating her pancakes. "These are good, Daddy."

Michele caught her twin's attention. "See? We're going to have a great day, Bree. I know it, too!"

"I still wish I could go!" Theresa complained as she finished eating.

"More pancakes, Resa?" Al asked, trying to break her of feeling left out.

She nodded, "Yes, please, Daddy. You do make yumola pancakes!"

Al put two more pancakes on Theresa's plate and added syrup. "Thank you, munchkin. It was my pleasure to make them."

"When I go to kindergarten," she said, stabbing a bite of pancake with her fork, "will you make them for me?"

I quickly drank some coffee to stave off a rush of tears at the thought of the next in line of our girls heading to school. They were growing up way too fast. Yesterday I had been updating the photo album with the latest batch of pictures I'd gotten developed. Once they were all stuck to the pages and sealed beneath the cellophane covering, I'd idly turned back to the beginning and taken a stroll down memory lane. Seeing photographs of the girls from the previous couple of years stunned me. I had thought they had looked so big then, but the comparison to the big girls they were now was striking. The twins no longer had the same degree of baby-ness to their faces. Theresa and Grace, while still having the adorable chub of preschoolers, looked so much older than their baby photos.

I lifted my coffee cup again to my lips only to realize it was empty. Trying to cover my emotional state, I rose to refill it at the coffee maker. As I did, I turned to ask Al if he wanted a refill as well.

"That'd be great, Beth," he said, stretching to hand me his mug.

When I resumed my seat at the table, Grace leaned over to hug my arm after I passed Al's coffee to him. "Mommy, what we gonna do while they're at school?"

Bridget and Michele were just as attentive to the forthcoming answer as Grace and Theresa. "I thought we'd go to the park," I answered, blinking at the hawkish attention of four little girls. Bridget frowned and pushed the last bite of pancake around on her plate.

"I don't wanna go to school," she groused.

Al had finished his coffee and he rose from the table to bring the dirty dishes to the dishwasher. "Want to or not, it's about time to go," he said, consulting his watch. "Rinse your plates and put them in the dishwasher. Chop chop." He pulled the frilly apron over his head and hung it on the hook in the pantry as the girls clattered their plates and cups into the dishwasher racks.

I had already let the dog outside into the backyard and was digging in my purse for the car keys when Al approached the foyer to grab his cover from the shelf near the front door. He leaned to kiss my cheek.

"Hey, they're going to have a terrific day," he said, studying my expression. "Bridget's just having cold feet." Noticing the girls making their way forward, he turned to ask the twins if they had their schoolbags. Michele did, but Bridget turned to retrieve hers from the den where we had prepped them with school supplies yesterday evening.

"Daddy, it's my turn to ride with you, right?" asked Theresa. We were taking separate cars as Al was heading to work after we got the twins settled into their classroom.

Al pretended to think hard, pressing a finger to his temple and crinkling his brow. "I'm not sure, Resa, didn't you just ride with me yesterday?"

Grace volunteered, "Daddy, you didn't drive your car at all yesterday."

"I didn't?" He winked at Theresa. "Then it must be your turn, Resa! C'mon, let's go. I'll need to find a parking spot at the school. Mommy can go in the kindergarten drop-off area since she'll have the twins with her." He and Theresa strode outside (she skipped beside him while he adjusted his cover) as I corralled Grace and the twins and hustled them to the station wagon.

Bridget started complaining again as soon as I started the car.

"You know, sweetie, this isn't the way to try to have a good day," I gently chided her.

"We'll be together, Bree," Michele said. "And I think Miss Silvestri looked like she was nice."

Bridget considered that, thinking back to "Meet the Teacher" night and the tall blonde woman with the blue eyes and kind smile who had introduced herself to them and shown them around the classroom. "She did," she finally agreed.

"I wish I got to go to school," Grace said.

"You go to Mother's Day Out," I pointed out.

"Oh yeah."

I switched the radio on as we exited the neighborhood behind Al's car and the girls started singing along with Joan Jett and the Blackhearts. I chuckled as Grace opened her mouth wide while scrunching her eyes closed as she bellowed the chorus.

Soon we arrived at the school attached to the Catholic church we attended. Father Gerald stood next to the principal greeting arriving parents while teachers wearing orange safety vests directed traffic. We were waved over to a far corner of the parking lot to a section marked off with highway cones. Al had parked near the church and he and Theresa walked to join us. They'd arrived to the nearby sidewalk by the time we'd stopped and emerged from the station wagon.

"Good morning, Captain Calavicci," Father Gerald said as he extended a hand to Al. He winked at Theresa, "Surely it isn't time for Theresa to start school already?"

She didn't get the joke and she shook her head. "No, Father, the twins are starting kindy-garden today. Me and Grace are staying with Mommy."

"Oh, of course, my mistake," smiled Father Gerald. He saw me coming with the twins and Grace. "And here they are! Good morning, Mrs. Calavicci! Bridget, Michele." He tweaked Grace's pigtail, "And Grace!"

The principal, an elegantly dressed black woman, Mrs. Johnson, smiled at us. "Captain, Mrs. Calavicci, I love when both parents are able to come for the first day of school." She introduced herself to Bridget and Michele, who had only met their teacher last week. "Miss Silvestri is very excited for school to start this morning. Why don't you head on in?"

"Thank you, Mrs. Johnson," Al said, shaking her hand. "Come on, girls." He gestured to the entrance and held the door for us, slipping his cover off and tucking it under his arm in one smooth motion as he stepped inside.

We walked to the kindergarten hallway and found Miss Silvestri's classroom, room 104. The twins both froze at the doorway.

"What is it?" I asked, bending down to them.

"Nothing," Bridget said. She took a deep breath and reached for her twin's hand.

Miss Silvestri noticed the girls standing in the doorway and came to the hallway. "Bridget," she correctly identified, "good morning, my friend! And Michele, hello! I'm so happy you're here today. Come on in with your parents and sisters. I'm sure your Mommy wants to get some pictures of you at your table!"

I grinned. This was not Miss Silvestri's first rodeo. I reached into my purse and pulled out the camera I had tucked in there last night. The girls found the folded signs with their names neatly printed on them at the table closest to the windows.

"Here we are, Mommy," Michele pointed. No other children were currently seated at the table. The few children who had already arrived for the day were occupied in the play area. Michele and Bridget dutifully sat at the table and smiled while I snapped a photo.

"Miss Silvestri, could I get one with you in it, please?" I called to the teacher.

"Of course, Mrs. Calavicci," she smiled, striding over and crouching between the twins' chairs. She smiled prettily and I snapped another photo. I thanked her and she nodded before returning to the doorway to welcome the next arrivals to the classroom.

Al regarded Bridget. "So? Gonna have a good day?"

She nodded eagerly. "Yes, Daddy."

"Great! I can't wait to hear all about it tonight at dinner." He bent to kiss each of them. "You two have a wonderful day today, okay."

I kissed them next and also told them to have a wonderful day. Theresa and Grace hugged them and then we all walked out of the school.

Al hugged Theresa and Grace and kissed them before hugging and kissing me. "I'm off to work now." He studied my eyes and shook his head. "Beth, Beth, Beth," he smiled. He kissed me again and gently wiped a tear from my cheek.

"I know," I sniffed. "They're just so little, and yet so big."

He nodded at my contradictory statements and chuckled as another weeping mother exited the school.

"You gonna be okay?" he asked.

I took a deep breath. "Yes. Have a good day at work, honey." He grinned and headed towards his car. I turned to Grace and Theresa. "So, shall we go to the park, girls?"