As we often do, my youngest son and I walked to school together one morning this week. Along the 15 minute walk, we decided to count the Japanese maple trees, newly-planted and adorning a long block. There were 27 trees, all saplings, all beautifully blooming and making quite an impression on us, the inadvertent passers-by.
When we reached the bottom of the hill, almost at the stoplight where I leave him in the hands of the crossing guard and allow him to walk the final block to school alone, he looked up at me and asked me what global warming was. I knew I had approximately one minute to answer this question, from the time of his question to the moment when the light would change and he would be shepherded across the street. So I did, succinctly and in age-appropriate terms for a fifth grader.
And then he was off to school, and I turned and walked back up the long hill to go to work.
For the past two years, this has been our special time together, this 15 minute walk. We don’t always do it (we’re a bit weather averse, to be honest) but we’ve done it often enough that it has made an impression on both of us. I really look forward to our walks – they’re a time to talk, to laugh, and to enjoy each other’s company. My youngest son is intellectually curious, so we often discuss interesting topics. And he’s sweet and fun, so we’re often laughing at a joke together, or he’s telling me how much he loves me, trying to convince me that he loves me more than I love him.
This is simply not possible, I tell him. It’s like that now-classic children’s book that was first published around the time my oldest child was born – “Guess How Much I Love You?” Big Nut Brown Hare and Little Nut Brown Hare get into a competition about who loves who more. It’s clear that Little Nut Brown Hare thinks he’s won at the end, when he tells Big Nut Brown Hare that he loves him all the way to the moon. But as Little Nut Brown Hare yawns and falls asleep, Big Nut Brown Hare assures him that he loves him all the way to the moon … and back.
That’s how I feel about my kids. And perhaps especially about this youngest -- my most cuddly, snuggly, loving of the three.
And now that cuddly, snuggly, loving young boy – the one who adores baseball and basketball and soccer and his brother and sister and his teacher and his mom and his dad and his stuffed animals and his fish – is about to be “promoted” and will be heading to middle school in the fall. Which means that for the first time in 10 years, we will no longer have a child in elementary school. It’s the end of so many pieces of our lives, I don’t even know where to start.
It’s the end of 3rd grade ice cream socials, where I, once again, have forgotten to bring a topping.
It’s the end of art projects coming home in backpacks at the end of the school year, and the end of my having to find a place for each and every one on my desk.
It’s the end of the bus stop, for me and for him, and the end of the community of moms and dads I’ve gotten to know over many years there.
It’s the end of room parents, and Halloween and Valentine’s Day parties.
It’s the end of parent volunteerism at the high level demanded in elementary school, and even though I never attained much traction in this area, I did work to go on at least one field trip a year and tried to attend all the in-class events and parties.
It’s the end of spelling tests and reading logs.
Its’ the end of the butterfly garden at the lower elementary school, and the end of the fish tank at the upper elementary school.
It’s the end of always getting lost in the upper school, which was a building built originally as a middle school in the 1970s, when some whacked-out architect thought that making the building as confusing a maze as possible might be a good brain challenge for those tween brains.
It’s the end of band concerts where “Hot Cross Buns” is always the opening number.
It’s the end of the instrument petting zoo, a fabulous program for the third graders, where musicians from the community come and let the kids “pet” their instruments so the children can decide what on instrument they might want to play “Hot Cross Buns” in fourth grade.
It’s the end of having swimming for gym twice a year.
It’s the end of developing more personal relationships with my children’s teachers. The middle school and high school teachers are also fabulous, but they are more in tune with building relationships with the students, and not so much with the parents (as it should be.)
And finally, it’s the end of my morning walks with my youngest, which may be the only thing that I am truly sad about. I'll miss our talks. And now if I ever want to count the Japanese maples, I'll have to go by myself.
It’s been a good run – I’ve enjoyed my children’s elementary schooling years immensely. They have learned, and I have learned. We have wonderful schools, and wonderful teachers, and I know that my children have been well prepared to move on to the next step.
But I also know that next fall, I will be persona non grata on the morning walk to school. All the middle school kids walk together, with no adults, and next year will be no different. My son is already planning his posse (and knows that it is highly unlikely that his sister, who will be an 8th grader, will allow him anywhere near her on those morning walks.)
So I am closing the book on elementary school in our house. We are ready for the next adventure, and the next grade. And even though I know that my son thinks that he’s a big kid, all puffed up about going to middle school next year, one with a locker and his own schedule, I know he’s still the boy I tuck in at night who tells me he loves me more than I love him.
And as the Big Nut Brown Hare in this story, I happen to know that that will never be true.
Photo by tamurray5 via Flickr