This coming week I'll help finish the preparations for my son Tim’s eighth grade graduation. I'm one of three event co-chairs, which seems fittingly symbolic: I'm executing tangible tasks -- overseeing programs and flowers, scheduling the graduation dance, renting the folding chairs -- to symbolize the end of his nine years at our local school.
Sometimes I think I've changed more than he has in these nine years. I was so starry-eyed as we registered for kindergarten. This is one of the most desirable school systems in the country; I felt so lucky to be able to live here and send my child here, and I was sure everything would be perfect. He'd have perfect teachers, make perfect friends, do all the right activities: soccer, band, middle school dances, Student Council. This was, after all, the same school I attended myself for grades kindergarten through eight, and almost all my memories of it were happy ones.
But of course, public school isn't Disney World, no matter how highly rated the school system. Parents spar with the administration and gripe among themselves about teachers. Even the most exclusive suburbs, with parents who lavish every possible benefit on their children, produce kids who are occasionally unkind. And it turned out my kid didn't like soccer. Or band. Or Student Council. The middle school dances were fine -- until he went through his first break-up and didn’t want to go anymore for a while. That was one milestone I most definitely was not anticipating back at kindergarten orientation.
So Tim and I will both spend next week preparing for our departure, both emotionally and in practical ways as we finalize the graduation preparations. Next fall, he heads off for the first time in his life to a school that I did not attend and cannot picture. Since I went to private school and he'll go to public, I don't know the smell of the hallways or the color of the auditorium seats or where the buses load at the end of the day. This time Tim will learn it all for himself.
But really, he did last time, too. My notion that I knew all about our local school was an illusion. it was a good nine years, but things are more complicated than I anticipated. There were good parts and bad parts, and next week, as the other graduation volunteers and I confirm with the photographer, proofread the programs, and watch the kids head off on their daylong beach trip, Tim will be saying goodbye to teachers and acknowledging that there are friends he will hardly ever see next year. Eighth grade graduation is hardly a notable accomplishment. The truth is pretty much anyone can pull it off. But it's a milestone nonetheless.