See that handshake? That one right there?
With that handshake, the Divine Miss M officially said, “So long” to Fifth Grade and “Hello!” to middle school.
As with all things parenting, it’s bittersweet.
I anticipated the conflicting emotions parents always feel with each milestone, the interrelation of sadness, pride and excitement for her next adventures in growing up, the reminder of how fast it all goes. Yeah, I knew all of that was coming, it was everything else that caught me off guard.
Part of the “everything else” is a result of loving M’s school so much. We’ve been immeasurably lucky in that regard. She started there in First Grade with more than her share of behavioral issues. We often joke we had more parent/teacher conferences between Pre-K and First Grade than most parents have all the way through graduation. At one point, my receptionist started adopting an apologetic tone when she would buzz me to say that my daughter’s school was on the line “again.” Luckily, M’s First Grade teacher took the Divine under her wing and made a huge impact in her life. Also, it’s an Arts Integrated School, where, in addition to academics, they teach art, drama, dance, strings and emphasize independent thinking. Miss M flourished in that environment as, God knows, independent thinking is her forte.
Of course, no school is perfect. There are the parents, for example.
As lawyers, we’ve dealt with some cunning individuals. But every school inevitably has a pack of Stepford Moms who make formal litigation seem like child’s play. We all know them. Their manic desperation to appear as a modern-day June Cleaver is almost palpable, but dig an inch below the surface and they’re far more similar to today’s Desperate Housewife.
Our little group of Moms, marvelous misfits in comparison, were well entrenched in that school. We’re so far from June Cleaver, we don’t even attempt the facade. It didn’t take long for me to feel completely at home there, Stepford Moms notwithstanding – feeling that comfortable anywhere is a huge feat for me and it slowly happened without my ever realizing it. The value of that was never clearer than the last day of school when the everything elses “that will never happen again” began.
First, my best friend pulled in to the drop-off line behind me that morning, and our daughters, best friends themselves for years, headed up the walkway side by side and I realized, I’ll never see that again. Second, I arrived that afternoon for the Fifth Grade Assembly, and I heard those unique sounds singularly associated with elementary school playgrounds, sounds that end abruptly in middle school as recess is left behind. I’ll never walk into another one of M’s schools and hear that in the background. I’ll never hear another story that begins with “Today, at recess ….” Spend any time with elementary school students and you quickly learn monumental things happen at recess (and, I suspect, adults could learn a lot from knowing the value of recess). Lastly, the Fifth Grade Assembly was over, it was fun, it was bittersweet, I was laughing with other parents, taking pictures of M and her friends and then I started to leave, preoccupied with all I still needed to accomplish that afternoon. But as I stepped outside the gym doors, I stopped short. I looked around at some of the familiar sights and the Moms that had become my friends in their own right, not just the parents of another student. I lingered for a minute under the massive oak tree that sits right outside the door, called my best friend who was in the carpool line to pick up not only her two, but mine as well (something else that will never happen again) and told her to talk me down as I was about to, oh my god, cry in public “because I just realized when I leave here, I’ll never be back.” This building that held my daughter every day for five years, where I feel completely at ease and know most of the kids, where I’ve long felt the teachers were not just educating my daughter but looking out for her, where I have inside jokes with almost every one of them and they know my daughter, her progress, her intelligence, her strengths, her weaknesses, her struggles to control her temper and herself. They know where she started, where she is now and the long road it took to get there. I stood under the tree realizing, I’ll never, ever know that surrounding again.
Middle school is the bridge to high school. M will gain more independence from her parents and her teachers, as she is supposed to. We’ll know her teachers and her friends, of course, but not like we know these.
Standing under that tree, it seemed like that independence started abruptly. I’ve made conscious effort to remember how fast it goes so I won’t take it for granted, but to not get bogged down in that aspect lest I don’t enjoy the present. But the everything elses caught me off guard that day.
Most of those things would have occurred regardless of whether we were moving, though it definitely added finality. I have to remind myself that all those lasts make way for a lot of firsts, and I can’t wait for her, and us, to experience them.