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.

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