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First day of school, Part 3: Magic wand

First day of school, Part 3: Magic wand

by Wolf Pascoe on October 7, 2011

East Dawn SchoolhouseMy son Nick and I are having a slow first day of school.

Truth be told, we’re not even at school. We’ve been sitting on the grass outside the front gate for half an hour. Our talk is of Jay, Nick’s best friend, now enemy. A few careless words over a cubby problem have broken a couple of nine-year-old hearts.

“Weren’t you guys scheduled for a play over tomorrow?” I say.

“I would rather eat hairballs,” says Nick.

I have no idea where to go with this. I try for Father Knows Best, even though I know better.

“You know,” I say, “When one door closes, another always opens.”

“My doors close and I have no other doors.”

“It feels like that?”


“That’s rotten.”

Nick doesn’t answer. So much for doors.

I decide to call Nora and fill her in on why I’m not home yet. Nick hears me give her the details.

“Am I telling this right?” I ask him.


I get off the phone and give Nick a smile. He tossess a pebble.

It roles away, one second per second.




magic wandI like it that words have come. Shakespeare, especially in the comedies, gives you a feeling of confidence in words. Say enough of them and a solution to any problem proposes itself. Of course, we don’t live in the age of Shakespeare, but the age of Beckett. In Beckett, the more words, the deeper the hole.


It occurs to me that Nick’s sensibility, even in despair, is more Midsummer Night’s Dream than Waiting for Godot. He loves stories and role playing games, has an inner world populated with swords and dragons.

Me: What would you do right now if I gave you a magic wand?

Nick: Destroy the world.

Me: This wand can’t be used for destruction.

Nick: Make Jay disappear.

Me: Okay, now what?

Nick: I don’t know.

I am, suddenly, swimming in water over my head, tired and looking for shore. Are there waves breaking in the distance?

“That is such a great plan,” I say.

“Making Jay disappear?” he says.

“Not knowing,” I say.

Silence from Nick. A soft September breeze.

Sand under my feet.

Me: “Do you realize we could walk through that gate into the yard right now and the plan could be just to see what happens?”




I don’t know why Nick goes for it.

Maybe because he’s cried all the tears he’s going to. Or because it’s been a couple of hours since the whole thing started and he’s ready to move on. Or maybe he just likes being in a story. I like being in a story.

When the bond between heaven and earth is broken, says the Baal Shem Tov, Only a story can mend it.

Once we’re inside the gate, a few kids come up to him. Since parents are often in the yard, I’m invisible.

There’s a water plan in the sand pit, to which Nick says, “No thanks.”

“Hey Nick,” says Mitch, one of the older boys, “We’re going to have a seance. Want to be in it?”

“What’s a seance?” says Nick.

“It’s when you talk to dead people. We’re going to talk to Jimi Hendrix.”

I’m recruited also. Five or six of us gather in a corner of the yard. We hold hands in a circle and close our eyes. The older boy calls out to Jimi’s soul. No answer.

“Jimi’s soul isn’t home today,” says Mitch.

“I need to pee,” I say to Nick. “I’ll be back.”

He lets me go. I check in with Nick’s teacher, Dante.

“Looks like he’s feeling better,” says Dante.

“I’m not sure he’s ready for me to leave yet,” I say.

Dante shrugs.

“It’s really great you can be here,” he says.

I think of times neither Nora nor I could be here. And times Nick came home in a sour mood, not wanting to talk about it. What a child really needs, I think, is a fairy godmother.

The seance breaks up and Nick walks over.

“Dada, can we go home now?” he says.

Two steps forward, three steps backward. I have no idea where we are or where we’re going. Nick doesn’t need a fairy godmother. I do.

Fairy godmother: Yes?

Me: Where are we?

Fairy godmother: You know where you are.

Me: I need to borrow your wand.

Fairy godmother: What for?

Me: I’m going to point it at Nick and Jay and say, Repairo.

Fairy godmother: You should eat something.

“How about some lunch?” I say to Nick.




I didn’t bring any lunch, so I order spaghetti at the restaurant across the street and take it back to school. Nick and I find a secluded part of the yard, spreading out our provisions under a shade tree.

“I want spaghetti,” says Nick.

“You’ve got peanut butter and jelly in your lunchbox.”

“Trade?” he says.

I give him half my spaghetti for half his sandwich.


“You know,” I say, “I should probably call Jay’s mom and let her know the play over is off for tomorrow. I think she had a plan to be somewhere.”

“We can still have a play over.”

“You’re willing to have Jay over?”

Perhaps I do have a fairy godmother.


The truth is both boys would probably like to forget about this morning. But I’m not forgetting.

“I don’t know,” I say. “I’m not sure it would work with you two on the outs.”

“Well, I didn’t do anything to him.”

“Well, something isn’t right. Would you be willing to have a meeting and try to work it out with him?”

A long, theatrical pause. Not Shakespeare, but not Beckett either. Maybe Chekhov.

“Okay,” he says.



I had thought I was going to tell this story in three posts. Silly me. The First Day of School concludes next time with Paradigm.

First day of school, Part 1: Trouble in paradise

First day of school, Part 2: Birches

Recommendation for fatherhood



The Happiest Kids Don’t Have to Smile

Image Credits: East Dawn Schoolhouse by Robb North (Lis: Creative Commons); Red Schoolhouse by Kristal Kraft (Lis: Creative Commons)



Do magic wands work for you? Need a fairy godmother? 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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{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

Barbara S. October 7, 2011 at 10:15 am

You’re way smarter than you give yourself credit for, Dad.


Wolf Pascoe October 7, 2011 at 5:44 pm

I am basking in your skillful use of the word way.


jeff skorman October 7, 2011 at 11:18 am

I ‘am finding this very interesting.It really reminds me why I strive to be more like our dogs. They don’t have all of these illusionary problems like we seem to.


Wolf Pascoe October 7, 2011 at 5:38 pm

I think I could turn and live with animals, they are
so placid and self – contain’d,
I stand and look at them long and long.

They do not sweat and whine about their condition,
They do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins,
They do not make me sick discussing their duty to God,
Not one is dissatisfied, not one is demented with the
mania of owning things,
Not one kneels to another, nor to his kind that lived
thousands of years ago,
Not one is respectable or unhappy over the whole earth.

–Walt Whitman


David October 7, 2011 at 1:07 pm

Nick: I don’t know.
“That is such a great plan,” I say.

Ha! Genius. You stayed in the moment and drew that out. I love that. Like recognizing negative space.


Wolf Pascoe October 7, 2011 at 5:39 pm

Negative capability. I’m all over it.


Jennifer Lehr October 7, 2011 at 1:12 pm

how much was about his friend and how much was about anxiety of school starting and not wanting you to leave?

it seems like he was very successful in getting his needs met and you were there to meet them.


Wolf Pascoe October 7, 2011 at 5:42 pm

It’s been a couple of years since he’s needed me to stay that first day of school. So I’m guessing this was half about school-starting anxiety, and two-thirds about his friend Jay.


Sirena October 7, 2011 at 3:04 pm

This too shall pass.


Wolf Pascoe October 7, 2011 at 5:45 pm

That’s exactly what I tell myself when I feel a post going on too long.


Jim P. October 7, 2011 at 6:55 pm

What ‘s going on too long ? In just a couple of pages of “from the heart” , supported by your good friends on this post, you have achieved more compassion, love and honesty, than could be ascribed, if all the words of “War and Peace” were
written to offer some guidance in relationships with our children. Keep it up !


Wolf Pascoe October 7, 2011 at 7:07 pm

Thank you, Jim. Please come back. Often.


pamela October 7, 2011 at 7:46 pm

I want a fairy godmother too.

I am very inspired by all of this. Thank you for reminding me that not knowing is a great plan. I always forget this. And to pack lunch as well.


Wolf Pascoe October 7, 2011 at 8:09 pm

And sunscreen. Don’t forget the sunscreen.


Privilege of Parenting October 7, 2011 at 10:40 pm

I think you were played—spaghetti is way better than pb&j.


Wolf Pascoe October 8, 2011 at 4:14 pm

Yeah. I’m going to make it back, though. I don’t know when, but I’ll make it back.


Alameda October 8, 2011 at 9:59 am

Do you think at some point in this story there could have been a moment where you could have just left? You have experienced a terrible loss at age 8 and seemed to have managed well throughout life.


Wolf Pascoe October 8, 2011 at 4:12 pm

It’s a fine line. This is the first time in two years that Nick as asked me to stay with him at school for the day. But stay tuned. He kicks me out soon.


BigLittleWolf October 9, 2011 at 6:28 pm

You have the patience of Job. (And I wouldn’t mind being in one of your stories either. Seems to me, Nick has more of a fairy godmother/father than you realize. Perhaps a fairy godwriter?


Wolf Pascoe October 10, 2011 at 6:11 am

Okay. You have three wishes. And none of ’em can be for more wishes.


Kelly October 9, 2011 at 10:50 pm

I’m hooked on this story. Mainly, I’m in awe of how much trust Nick places in you. When you leave, you’ll come back. If he needs you, you’ll be there. What a gift.


Wolf Pascoe October 10, 2011 at 6:25 am

I believe you should let a kid fall. But you should catch him before he hits the ground. At least, I believe that this week for Nick. I don’t think you need to worry that he’ll never learn anything if he never hurts himself. There’s a million times he’ll hurt himself when you’re not there to catch him. But if you’re there, you should catch him, once he knows he’s falling. As I recall, mostly, nobody ever caught me, and, looking back, I would have preferred to have been caught. Maybe not every kid is like this. But as far as I can tell, mine is.


Jim P. October 10, 2011 at 8:38 pm

So you were not caught when you needed it most. Aren’t we all as adults wounded in such ways..In the 60’s I wanted for my father to see what a good drummer I had become. I played with a small dance ensemble and made a lot of people very happy. My dad never came to see me play. He was really into sports, working too much and alcohol, when I could care less. And like you, I fell a lot and my dad never caught me.
But look a little deeper into your own soul. You are a Physician. How many souls have fallen away only to be caught and brought back to life by the Physicians hands ? Your boy Nick is really blessed to have this relationship, held aloft by the hands of the Father/Physician who loves him so.


Wolf Pascoe October 11, 2011 at 12:49 am

If you didn’t have people around who could catch you then, it’s important to have them around now. That’s not quite it. Eventually, I just need to be with myself, to catch myself. So I’m drawn to people who support that. Those are the people I want in my life.


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