published Sunday, August 11th, 2013

Kennedy: Middle school jitters — for Dad

On Monday, I had to help my 11-year-old son make it through middle-school registration. Days earlier, I had asked him if he was nervous about making the leap to sixth grade. “Not really,” he said flatly. I chalked his nonchalance up to a lack of life experience and proceeded to be anxious for him.

Slowly, my brain began to play tricks. I became obsessed with registration day. I emailed the middle school band director to find out if my son and I should practice our drumming in advance. Once, I found myself fiercely ripping off paradiddles (a type of stroke for you non-drummers) on a practice pad in my son’s bedroom, as if I, some random dad, would be required to play a snare drum solo on middle school registration day.

“Are you nervous yet?” I asked my son again last Sunday.

“Not really,” he repeated.

Well, I sure as heck am, I thought. Why don’t you get serious, man?

What if he misses the bus one afternoon, my wife and I thought. So we packed up the family and headed to the AT&T store to buy an emergency cellphone.

Back in the car, I drilled our son on his new telephone number. “You’ve got to learn this,” I said urgently. “Eight-one, seven-one; eight-one, seven-one”

Meanwhile, my mind beeped in with another SOS: “Do we have enough pairs of school shorts with zippers? Gotta have zippers. School policy.”

On Monday morning I was awake before dawn — hands trembling.

“Don’t forget to grab some emergency phone numbers from your iPhone,” my wife instructed me as she prepared to register our 6-year-old son in first grade at another school.

“How do I do that without actually calling people?” I said, biting a fingernail. “And what about his Social Security number?”

“I texted it to you,” my wife said. “It’s on your phone.”

“How do I find it?” I said, panicked.

A few minutes later, I hustled my son into the car. It became apparent when we arrived on campus that we were going to easily be the first people in line. My son shot me a look as if to say: Attaboy, Rain Man.

We got to the table where they check your utility bills to make sure you aren’t trying to smuggle a kid into the wrong school zone. I had my EPB and Comcast bills in my briefcase; unopened, pristine. Then, just when I was about pass through customs, another school official walked up ominously.

“You’ll have to open those and let us look at the service address,” she said, as if we were at some Cold War checkpoint.

Trembling, I opened the bills.

“You’re OK,” she said finally, waving me through.

We took a seat at a table in the gymnasium to fill out registration forms. I messed up the first line and sent my son back to get a replacement form.

Next, we picked up his class schedule and paid fees — $188. Then, we talked to the lacrosse coach and the band director, and I peppered each one with questions.

On the way out, I ran into another dad we know. “This is a mommy’s job,” he lamented as he surveyed the long lines ahead of him. After that, my son and I went in search of his locker and practiced his combination again and again. “One more time,” I said after the third try. “Dad, I’ve got it,” he pleaded. Then, we were off to find his “directed studies” teacher — the fancy new name for homeroom. There, I got into reporter mode and couldn’t stop rattling off questions.

“When do we get gym clothes? Where do we put our band gear? Where is the math class?”

As we left the room I had my son stop, turn around and memorize the poster on her door.

Finally, back in the car, I looked over at him lovingly.

“You feel better now, don’t you?” I said.

He nodded slowly as if acknowledging something odd.

“Well, I know I feel better,” I said, drumming my fingers on the steering wheel.

Contact Mark Kennedy at or 423-757-6645. Follow him on Twitter @TFPCOLUMNIST. Subscribe to his Facebook updates at

about Mark Kennedy...

Mark Kennedy is a Times Free Press columnist and editor. He writes the "LIfe Stories" human interest column for the City section and the "Family Life" column for the Life section. He also writes an automotive column, “Test Drive,” for the Business section. For 13 years, Kennedy was features editor of the newspaper, and before that he was the newspaper’s first Sunday editor. The Times Free Press Life section won the state press award for ...

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