THIS IS A NOTE of admiration for parents who have just delivered their child or children to his, her or their first day of school. We're not talking about the first day back - which gets more than its share of attention - but the very first day, the day when you alone have the duty to usher one of God's innocents into Society at Large.

We know what you've been through. The myriad self-justifications: How necessary a formal education is. How good it will be for their little minds. They will learn to "verbalize their feelings." They will "develop their creative potential," their "reading skills." Think of the improvement of their "visual perception"; their "auditory memory"; their "motor coordination." Not to mention the friends they'll make. The teachers who will love them. And they'll learn responsibilities. Ethics. Citizenship. A place in the world. Yes, of course.

And we know you've done your best to prepare them for their entrance. "This is a great day for you, Harold." "Miss Hawk seems very nice, doesn't she?" - all the while remembering the Miss Hawk of your own childhood, who has fangs, blue hair and drank. Arthur Schlesinger's parents removed him from his school after he was taught that an albino was a white Albanian. You've tired to put such stories out of your mind.

Instead, you've spoken hopefully, in rich, liquid tones, and have taken Harold firmly by the hand and strode boldly with him at your side as you approached the red-brick edifice, which confronted you like an ancient fist. And you've given Miss Hawk a hearty handshake and a knowing nod. And you've grinned like a jack-o'-lantern as your helped Harold with his little jacket. And you did not wince when Miss Hawk greeted Harold as "Henry." You patted Harold on the back. And you managed not to turn around until you were out of the building, when finally you stopped smiling and stared at the place in which Harold will become a "member of society," and be lost to you, in part, forever.