The mood at our house Wednesday was different than it had been a year ago, on the day Samantha started kindergarten.

Twelve months ago, there was something of a buzz around our house in anticipation of sending Sam to school. Day One included a full-fledge entourage accompanying her to school, much to Sam’s irritation.

But perhaps it was the way kindergarten ended, or Sam’s workman-like attitude about starting first grade that made this year different.

Sam had missed one day of school leading up to her last two weeks of kindergarten. Strep throat, and a subsequent hive-producing allergic reaction to the medication she was given, kept her at home seven of the last nine days of school.

Sam, 6, was furious that her summer break began early. In fact, I’m not sure that she understands why there is a summer break, despite her parents’ effort to explain it.

Days before the 2005-06 school year ended, Sam informed me that if kindergarten ended on Thursday, which it did, that she had the right to start first grade on Friday. That, of course, didn’t happen.

So on Wednesday, following what was a good summer, by and large, we returned Sam to Maple Elementary, placing her in the care of Karen Campbell.

I’m still not sure what to make of Sam’s response to her return to school. It was obvious that she was excited, but she wasn’t wild with it as she is when she’s excited about most things. She was glad to see her friends at Maple, but maintained her reserved posture, at least in front of us.

It could be a challenging year at home. Amy, my wife, works second shift and her time with Sam will be limited largely to weekends. Anna, 4, will enter another phase in her life, discovering what it means to stay home with 9-month-old sister Audrey while Sam is at school all day.

Though some of them won’t admit it, parents always worry for their children.

I worry less about turning Sam over to Ms. Campbell than trying to help Sam remain as enthused about becoming a fifth grader or sophomore as she was Wednesday at the beginning of first grade. I worry about her long-term prospects for getting a good education at Greater Clark, where a number of key benchmarks — including graduation rates, SAT scores, number of students who continue their educations in college — are indefensible.

Despite my concerns, I remain confident that Sam will succeed as a student, as will Anna and Audrey.

Last night around 10 — more than an hour after I put her to bed — Sam came to the family room and asked if she could lay on the sofa with me. We snuggled up and in less than five minutes, Sam fell asleep.

In Sam’s busy little life, five minutes and the end of the day may be all she can give me, but I’ll take it.

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