A collective case of butterflies in the tummy now spreads across
South Valley.
A collective case of butterflies in the tummy now spreads across South Valley.

“Back 2 School” week has arrived.

We all have our “Back 2 School” memories.

And traumatic emotions have permanently seared into my brain the memory of my first day in first grade.

At the innocent age of 7 years, I felt electrified that overcast morning in 1973.

I clutched my brand-new Snoopy lunch-box as my dad walked me to the corner of Third and San Benito streets in downtown Hollister.

My eyes grew huge as the enormous yellow bus came rolling toward us and stopped at the intersection.

My dad made sure I knew my ultimate destination: ROOM NUMBER TWO.

The loud rumble of the diesel engine drowned out his last bits of advice as the lady driver opened the accordion-like doors.

Excited by the newness of the venture, I stepped up into a bus filled with the odor of old vinyl seat cushions.

I found a spot up front next to a small boy who looked about as nervous as I felt.

The bus lurched forward. My heart thumped hard as I waved one last good-bye to dad.

Then he disappeared from view.

Stop and after, the bus filled with kids.

Finally, we pulled into the driveway of Sunnyslope Elementary School.


Back in kindergarten, I’d heard other kids talk about Sunnyslope as if it were the Mt. Everest of academia.

Sunnyslope was where “the big kids” went, I knew.

“It’s hard over there,” I’d been warned.

And now before me stood the famous school.

At that moment, I didn’t feel like a “big kid.” I felt like an awfully scared little boy facing an uncertain adventure.

Looking out the window, I saw a gazillion kids on the school grounds.

I felt sure they all must be a whole lot smarter than me.

“Sunny-slop! Put the cherry on top!” shouted one kid, a boy with a pug-dog face.

He confidently strode down the bus aisle. I followed him out.

Stepping off the bus, I felt a wave of misgiving hit my stomach.

This was the first time I’d truly been on my own – so far away from home without my mom or my dad or a single soul I knew.

Gripping my lunch-box, I ambled along hallways filled with throngs of kids, teachers and parents. If only I could find ROOM NUMBER TWO, I thought.

ROOM NUMBER 2 = Sanctuary.

A bell started clanging. The agitated alarm screamed, “GET TO CLASS! GET TO YOUR ROOM NOW OR YOU’LL BE IN BIG, BIG TROUBLE!”

Like a colony of ants suddenly disturbed, kids hussled off.

Chaos gyrated all around me. I didn’t know which direction to go.

I scanned numbers on classroom doors. I found “3” and “4” and figured I was close to the elusive ROOM NUMBER TWO.

But for some reason, at least for me, it’s location was a state secret.

My tension grew as the crowds of kids thinned.

I ran around frantically, searching desperately for the place where I needed to be at that moment.

A classroom door slammed shut. An awful hush fell on Sunnyslope’s empty grounds.

At that moment, I knew for sure I’d never, ever find ROOM NUMBER TWO.

I knew I’d never, ever get beyond kindergarten.

My first-grade education was over before it even began.

Like billions of 7-year-olds throughout the ages have done when they felt traumatized and totally alone in the universe, I did what came naturally.

I began to cry.

A janitor looked down at me. He had stern eyes and a nose shaped like it’d been made out of Play-Dough.

Through my snot and sobs, I told him I needed to find ROOM NUMBER TWO.

He grumpily told me to follow him.

Apparently, the architect who designed Sunnyslope – with a cruel intention of traumatizing 7-year-olds – placed ROOM NUMBER TWO all by itself in a hidden corner of the campus.

In maliciousness, the designer even put ROOM NUMBER TWO out of sequence from the rest of the classroom numbers.

The janitor pointed out to me a door posted with the number “2.”

Fearing I was in BIG, BIG TROUBLE, I opened it cautiously.

An immense room smelled of chalkdust and poster paint. Kids sitting in chairs stared at me.

An elderly teacher with a kind face saw my tear-watered eyes.

She told me her name was Mrs. Dam – and for weeks after, I feared to speak her name because my dad told me once he’d give me a whoopin’ if “you ever use that word again.”

Mrs. Williams was the other teacher in ROOM NUMBER TWO.

She guided me to a brand-new desk. I sat down.

The first part of my first-day adventure was now over. But lots more waited ahead.

Thirty-one years have passed since my first day of first grade.

No doubt similar dramas will play out this “Back 2 School” week for scared little boys and girls all over the South Valley region.

It’s all a part of growing up we must get through.

The thing is, you survive it. That’s the important lesson I learned on that first day at Sunnyslope.

Nothing can ever be as bad as your imagination might lead you to think it is.

And for you parents with kids whose class happens to be in ROOM NUMBER TWO at Sunnyslope Elementary School … tell them not to panic if they can’t find the elusive room their first day.

A grumpy janitor will come along to show them the way.

Martin Cheek is the author of ‘The Silicon Valley Handbook.’

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A staff member wrote, edited or posted this article, which may include information provided by one or more third parties.


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