First day of school, Part 2: Birches

by Wolf Pascoe on October 2, 2011

One could do worse than be a swinger of birches. — Robert Frost

Trudi ForrestalSo there I am in the Fern Hill school yard, sitting under a pomegranate tree with my son on the first day of 4th grade. It seems the sadness of the world is with us. It always seems that way to me when Nick cries. Time slows and slows. I wonder if it will stop altogether.

Morning meeting finishes, the children come out to play, and Nick’s teacher Dante meanders over to us.

“Nick,” says Dante. “We missed you at morning meeting. What seems to be the trouble?”

“Nothing,” says Nick. “I want to go home.”

Much of the patience I have with Nick, such as it is, I’ve learned from observing his teachers. I watch the gentle back and forth between Nick and Dante, punctuated by long silences. I’m hoping the reason for Nick’s miserableness will tumble out. But after a quarter hour, Dante is no more successful than I am at unlocking that particular door.

“Nick,” I say, “I want to talk with Dante a minute.”

Dante and I move a short distance off. I count it as a victory that Nick lets me go. I’ve done what I can here, I think. At least Nick has gotten to his feelings. He seems cried out.

“I’m going to go home,” I say to Dante.

“Really?” Dante says. “I think Nick could use your support.”


As in, show up.

As in, be there.

I think hard about my agendas. I don’t have to be a doctor today. Today I was going to be a writer. There’s the Pulitzer I’m angling for, the Nobel to be considered. What of it? The plain truth is the world won’t miss me or my words.

It’s occurred to me now and again that I’d have made a good parent volunteer in the Fern Hill yard. A gust of shame passes over me that I’ve never done it. Not one single day in all these years. Though I regard the yard as a kind of paradise, and perhaps, when my last breath goes out, my true name will be revealed not as chronicler or healer, but swinger of birches.

Nick’s voice calls me back to myself.

“Dada,” he says.


“Will you stay with me?”

Would you rather write about your kid or be with him? 






Dante grins and wanders off. Nick nestles next to me on the futon as I settle in. I’ve decided to to accept the gifts of the day, which are considerable. A release from the injunctions in my head. Surrender to the passage of time. The warmth of Nick’s body next to my own.

I close my eyes and listen to the twittering of blackbirds, the voices of the other children playing. My rhythm slows. All I know is that I’m here. What will be will be.


“Is Nick sad?”

Nick’s friend James is standing before us.

“Are you, Nick?” I say.

“Yes, James,” Nick says.

“Jay told Nick he hated him when he didn’t save a cubby for him,” says James.

“Nick, did Jay say that?”


“Is that why you’re sad?”

“Yes, dada.”

The whole story comes out: how Nick’s best friend, Jay, was late and Nick couldn’t save him a cubby. How, when Jay finally arrived, Nick had demanded an explanation. How Jay, who had been late through no fault of his own, had lashed out at Nick.

“Can we go home now, dada?”

“Let’s take a walk.”

As he gets up, Nick pulls his hat down over his face.

“You’re trying not to call attention to yourself?” I say.

“Yes,” says Nick.

“I can’t think of anything more interesting than a boy walking with a hat over his face.”

Nick readjusts the hat.

“Do my eyes have red?”

“Not much,” I say. “Nobody would think there were tears there.”




The world travels so fast. I live in a city called Impatience. Not that I hate slowing down. I don’t know what slowing down is.

I used to run the 440-yard dash. Sometimes, I’d be crouched in the starting blocks, every muscle straining at the block pedals, every nerve on edge, yearning for the sound of the gun going off. And the shot would misfire. Or someone make a false start. Or, worse, a block pedal would slip and I’d push off into airy nothingness. Seven other runners sprinting away and I flat on my face, eating cinders.

Moments like these have names.

They are called, here.



I had thought I was going to tell this story in two posts. Silly me. The First Day of School continues next time with Magic Wand. It takes what it takes.

First day of school, Part 1: Trouble in paradise

Report Card



What is Unschooling?

Image Credit (feet):  Trudi Forrestal



Thoughts about patience? Maybe you’re a swinger of birches? Just Add Father is listening. (Unburden your mind by clicking a few lines below below, where it says comments or add one. I always respond here.)


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{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

BigLittleWolf October 2, 2011 at 8:11 am

There are so many lessons in this piece, I hardly know where to begin. So I will simply say that your snippets of here are illuminating and inspiring. From your physical and emotional awareness of Nick’s body against yours, to the patience to stay, and stay, until finally Nick feels safe enough to let the story of his sadness out, to your own recollection of falling into nothingness.

This is a sort of falling into somethingness. All too often, we speed by its possibility, and its beauty.


Wolf Pascoe October 2, 2011 at 9:50 am

A fall into somethingness. I like that, BLW.


Alameda October 2, 2011 at 2:50 pm

This story demonstrates something extremely important:Nick has a very open relationship with you, you are able to have him communicate with you his deepest emotions and feelings. He does not seem to feel rushed and gets comfort from you. Our issue as adults in this situation is “come on get over it and move on”. That is why you feel you are missing on so much by staying with Nick. But just think for a second, what a beautiful sacrifice you made to let Nick exteriorize his feelings and heal right then and there instead of like most of us keeping those feelings in and adding them to a pile in some dark spot in our hearts or heads, for them to only surface at a most inopportune time (? during an argument with our spouse or colleague?).
As far as I am concerned you just received your Nobel peace prize right here.


Wolf Pascoe October 2, 2011 at 4:02 pm

Thank you, Alameda. I’m going to bookmark your comment and read it every day for a month.


Barbara S. October 2, 2011 at 10:37 pm

So often now I think back to when my youngest was… well, young… and instead of savoring those days I rushed through them, forgetting to just be there. Even now that I have regrets about those days, and so many good intentions to appreciate the time we have together and not rush on to the next thing, I find myself in that city of Impatience and have to pull myself back to HERE.
I’m glad you stayed. I’m glad that’s one thing you won’t have to regret later.


Wolf Pascoe October 2, 2011 at 10:50 pm

I constantly have to remind myself that I can spend my whole life in regret over what I didn’t do right, or I can do it right now.


ChopperPapa October 3, 2011 at 9:26 am

I think you are able to toe that fine line far better than I am. Often my impatience gets the better of me and I forget about the ‘here’. Only after the mad dash is over and I’m gasping or breath do I sometime regret the ‘here’ that I mistakenly ran away from.


Wolf Pascoe October 3, 2011 at 7:50 pm

We are all so hard on ourselves. You should see me on an off day.


Jim-trying to get to here forever October 3, 2011 at 6:43 pm

How envious I am to read the words of a real father. And how I wish I could go back and undo all the impatience, anger and resentment that broke our marriage and so wounded my boy. So many times, so many years ago, I felt as if I had gotten to “here”. Quiet moments to share in laughter and wonder with your child.
Then, all over again, deadlines, work schedules, impatience, anger with the spouse when pushed to 18 hour days with no let up in sight and anger at all around me… boy.
Now I am a grandparent, my life is lit with new passion. Playing, running, reading, nothing comes before these best of times. I am a man of patience and peace, yet still haunted by so much regret. I am hobbled now by diabetes…I want desperately to dance with my grand daughter at her school graduation..
Your words give strength….Thanks


Wolf Pascoe October 3, 2011 at 10:08 pm

What a story you weave, Jim. We’re all just trying to get here. So simple it sounds, if you have no preferences. Sounds like you’ve come far; I hope you find your way to self-forgiveness. . . Blessings.


Kelly October 3, 2011 at 10:58 pm

I’m so enthralled with this story, and I’m soaking up its lessons. I don’t just live in the Impatience, I embody it. How does one change the atoms of her being? I suppose it’s by learning, and being willing to be wrong if it means finding a better way.


Wolf Pascoe October 4, 2011 at 10:55 am

I’m so good at being wrong. There’s hope yet.


Privilege of Parenting October 4, 2011 at 12:54 am

Once at camp in the north woods of Wisconsin, or it might have been Minnesota that camp, there was a birch tree and our counselor showed us how to peel the bark and write on it.

Maybe the world catches both your parenting and your words, the swinging rhythm of hurt and repair, of love and presence, and perhaps at least some corners of the woody world thank you to boot.


Wolf Pascoe October 4, 2011 at 10:58 am

Oh, this woody world. I would like to go to that camp, and have some of that bark.


pamela October 4, 2011 at 10:35 am

“Seven other runners sprinting away and I flat on my face, eating cinders.

Moments like these have names.

They are called, here.”

So beautiful!! I live in the here with you eating cinders. And I live in the birches where I am impatient to leave. Thank you for this glorious writing. The thing of it is, that it doesn’t really matter if you wanted to leave, because you stayed.


Wolf Pascoe October 4, 2011 at 11:03 am

Frost’s poem is too long to quote here, but we should all read it.


David October 7, 2011 at 12:58 pm

How well you illustrate the power of being, of listening.
Thank you.


Wolf Pascoe October 7, 2011 at 8:41 pm

Thank you, David.


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