Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Last day of school

I haven’t made presents for the kids’ teachers or picked up a gift card for the bus driver. Our month hasn’t included a single classroom visit for student poetry readings or choral presentations. No one has handed me a paper bag overflowing with art projects to somehow find room for around the house or in the basement.

So in some ways, it doesn’t quite feel like the last day of school. All those rituals of the earlier years seem to have tapered off. The kids have written their own end-of-year thankyou notes to their teachers without much prompting from me, and other parents have assured me that bus driver gifts are not typical in high school. Holly has described to me a couple of her final projects, and Tim is studying hard for exams, so I’ll just have to trust them that these are the end-of-year rituals that mark middle school and high school.

Despite the relative lack of fanfare, it’s good to see the school year drawing to a close, not because it wasn’t a fine year for all of us but because I can’t help feeling a twinge of victory at having pulled it off.

As this year began, I had so many apprehensions. High school was a whole new world to us, and I fretted over everything from how Tim would ever get to the bus stop for the pre-dawn, 6:40 a.m. pick-up to how I would learn to navigate the online parental communication system that offers parents information on grades, absences, and all other critical details of which we should be keeping track.
And even though middle school felt like a known quantity for us, I knew it would be different for Holly than for Tim, and wondered whether she would continue having secure friendships and keep up reliably with her homework.

But somehow it all worked out. Tim proved himself able to wake up at 5:30 a.m., shower, and make his own breakfast in order to be ready for a ride to the bus stop by 6:30. He interacted with new teachers whom I didn’t know and met kids different from those he’d gone to school with since kindergarten. He joined the freshman football team, made a few new friends, and earned High Academic Honors for the year. Holly wrote short stories, executed science projects, researched Afghanistan, helped to organize a fundraiser, and even joined the Ultimate Frisbee team.

I’m grateful that it was a safe and happy school year, given that school years have the potential to be neither safe nor happy. Yet I’m not sorry to see it ending, especially as the snow days last winter gave us plenty of extra time to enjoy the school year as it drew out through the end of June. Even though my own vacation from work doesn’t come until well into August, I’ll get plenty of enjoyment out of the kids’ time off from school. No bag lunches to prepare; no paperwork to fill out for their field trips and activities; and best of all, no more pre-5 a.m. wake-ups for me until September.

When I was my kids’ age, I loved the feeling of leaving school at the end of the year. I never imagined it could be nearly as fun for an adult to see the school year end. And maybe it’s not quite the same. But it’s pretty good. Even if I won’t have the long lazy summer days of reading or hanging out with friends that my kids can now choose to enjoy, I’ll still benefit from the change of pace. And from the contented recollections of a great school year gone by.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014


On a blog vacation while attending the Aspen Summer Words writers' conference. Back next week!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

30 years after graduation

It seems to me there are people who love attending high school reunions and people who wouldn’t dream of attending a high school reunion, and I know plenty of each.

I fall into the first group, although maybe not with quite so much fervent enthusiasm as some people do. I just always find high school reunions fun, and my 30th, this past weekend, was no exception. Despite what you see in movies like “Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion,” no one actually goes to a reunion to be mean or snarky or exclusive. That makes for good Hollywood, but it doesn’t really happen that way. People go to reunions specifically because they want to re-unite. Simply being together is the main thing that happens at reunions.

True, there is reminiscing, and joking, and in some cases maybe just a touch of reinventing reality. But more than anything else, there’s a shared spirit, a sense that we are together because….well, because we were together at another time in our lives, and it feels somehow like fulfilling a mission to close this particular circle again every few years.

As I see it, reunion moments take on two different forms. The first form is the nostalgia: “Remember when we…” and “How did that evening end when we…” and “What were we thinking when we decided to...” The second form is the connecting in the moment, the process of not just recalling who everyone once was but finding out who everyone turned into. While there were probably many moments of reminiscing in between the group dinners and other organized events of this past weekend’s reunion, it was more notable how much mingling was going on. People were going way beyond their teenage circle of friends, and presumably talking about the present, or the years that have led up to the present.

It makes sense to me, because while remembering old times is often fun, I find exploring current times to be a lot more interesting. Now well into our forties, we have so much to talk about, no matter how well we did or did not know each other thirty years ago. We talk about careers and career changes, children or childlessness, aging parents or deceased parents, good decisions, bad decisions, serious illness or brushes with the law.

As it happens, this was our first reunion that marked the death of a classmate – or actually two. Our class had been blessed with unusually good luck in that regard; while all the classes around ours had suffered their share of early tragedies, our class had stayed intact for 27 whole years after graduation, and then two losses came within one year.

It’s a sobering reminder that every time we gather in five-year increments from here forward, there may be fewer of us. But it’s also a reminder of how essential it is to gather. We talk, and we listen, and we learn. I’m making the reunion sound somber, and it certainly wasn’t that. The late-night revelry I didn’t stay up for was presumably far more rowdy than the cocktail parties and dinners I attended, but even those felt festive and celebratory. And they should. Reunions are about reuniting. It is good to be together again, for no better reason than to celebrate our shared existence.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Back to school - but not all that often, anymore

I had a mid-afternoon meeting at the kids’ school yesterday.

Except it’s not even the kids’ school anymore. I just say that from habit. It’s Holly’s school now; Tim has already been gone for nearly a year. His school is eight miles away, on a campus on which I still have to ask for directions to get anywhere except the main office or the auditorium.

But most of the time directions aren’t required because most of the time I’m not there, trying to find anything. Parents aren’t particularly needed on a high school campus; the administration and students together manage to pretty much run the show without us.

And it seems parents are needed a lot less at the lower school these days as well, although I know that’s not really true. From my friends with kids in the early elementary grades, I know that parents are still checking in and out of the office all day long to volunteer in the school library or run lines for the kindergarten play or chaperone a field trip to Boston.

But Holly is in middle school now, and even though it’s the same campus as the elementary school, my days as a weekly if not daily presence there are over.

So sitting in the brand-new conference room in the building that didn’t even exist when Holly was a grade schooler felt both familiar and strange to me yesterday afternoon. Watching the kindergarteners pass by outside the windows in a jagged line, some holding hands, some skipping, some distractedly shuffling, reminded me of every time I’d ever craned for a peek at my own kids’ classes passing by outside the window while I pretended to pay attention to a parent presentation or sorted book orders as a room parent. Except that if this were either of my kids’ kindergarten classes, I would have recognized every single kid. On this day, I recognized none of them at all. I didn’t even know why they were all wearing matching, neon green t-shirts.

Maybe they had a classroom performance, I thought, realizing only later when I drove past the baseball field and saw the bounce house that it was Field Day. That’s another event to which parents of younger kids flock, to deliver popsicles and take pictures and cheer on their little long-jumpers and three-legged-racers. Holly has middle school field day on Wednesday, but I wouldn’t have even known that if I hadn’t seen it in the school newsletter. At her age, it’s no longer a big event for parents.

All of this is making me sound more wistful than I really feel. Helping out at school was fun, most of the time, but it took up a lot of hours, and there were interpersonal politics involved, and sometimes a little guilt as far as who was doing too much and who wasn’t doing enough. Both kids are past the phase where parents are a big part of classroom life, and I welcome the new independence that comes with these new phases.

At the same time, in two years, Holly will be graduating from our local public school and I’ll have no call to be on that campus at all ever, except when the auditorium is being used for municipal purposes such as Town Meeting. Maybe then I’ll remember the days of classroom volunteering and feel more wistful than I do now. Right now, I still can’t imagine not being a school parent in our town; it’s been part of my identity for ten years.

To every thing there is a season. Now it’s nearly summer and school will soon be over, but Holly – and I – expect to be back on campus in the fall, to varying degrees. In another two years, Holly will cross town lines to the regional high school, and this campus will be mostly just a memory for me.

And that will be okay too. If I really need a fix of elementary school life, I can always take a seat in the back of the auditorium for one more mitten play or go watch the three-legged races at Field Day. But I probably shouldn’t. New parents will have taken my place. And that’s just as it should be.