I knew this day was coming: the day that my elementary-school kiddo would – just like that! – become a middle schooler. It’s been on the calendar for over a year: Last Day Of School. Circled, anticipated, imagined. And yet, until now, I wasn’t sure how I’d feel.
Truth is? I still don’t really know.
For weeks, people have been stopping us in the hallways at school, in our cul-de-sac, even at the grocery store, and uttering some version of, “Hey there, are you ready for 6th grade??” Each time, I would jokingly shush them. “STOP IT. Not yet! She still has more time!”
(To be clear: they were saying this to Ella, not me. I answered anyway.)
It wasn’t that I was dreading this moment; not at all. But I hadn’t been looking forward to it, either. It’s just… different.
For one thing, it’s the end of an era. Six years is a long time when you’re eleven; a lot has happened and changed since 2010. Plus, our elementary school is just so very lovely – a wonderfully close-knit community, delightful and involved teachers, a truly welcoming and warm and inviting space where everybody knows everyone.
It’s like Cheers, really. Except without the alcohol.
Obligatory Last Day photo.
When I got to school to help with the moving up ceremony, I noticed a whole bunch of her classmates wearing much fancier duds – while Ella had opted for, um, this. I hadn’t thought anything of it until I saw everyone else… and by then, it was too late. I didn’t care; I just hoped she’d be comfortable.
And then, after gym, she rounded the corner wearing a floor-length sundress, courtesy of her Grama — which she must have tucked in her backpack without me even knowing.
This girl is ready, y’all.
Middle school is… bigger. Farther away; no more walking, no more talking with the crossing guard, no picking dandelions on the way home. (Much) earlier mornings and later nights. New people.
That last one is a doozy. I’m a bad New People person. I understand that it’s Ella, not me, who will be meeting said New People – and I also know that I met the majority of my closest childhood friends in middle school, so this is really a wonderful thing – but still. New People anxiety is real, you guys. Even when I’m not the one doing the meeting.
Obligatory photo with us in the courtyard after the ceremony.
It’s also occurred to me that part of what makes this so different (from the other school transitions) is that Eleanor is reaching the age I remember. I have a few scattered memories from elementary school – playing with Smurfs on the playground, getting pooped on by a bird while waiting to go inside from recess, pretending to get a drink at the water fountain after I’d been sent out of class for answering other classmates’ questions out of turn… But my real, solid MEMORIES begin in middle school – and they are strong.
I can recall precisely the way the lunchroom calzones tasted, the feel of the auditorium seats, the way the hallway curved to the right to go to Home Ec, and the weight of the library doors. If I really ponder it, I bet I could remember the way to my locker. And that doesn’t begin to scratch the surface of the memories of what took place in those spaces – the way my French teacher laughed, the look on my classmates’ faces as I divided the them into East and West for a Berlin Wall presentation, the sound of my math teacher’s voice, the projects we created in Social Studies.
Because these memories are so vivid, they don’t seem far away… and certainly not 30 years old. When I dropped Ella off at an evening birthday party a few weeks ago, the DJ already playing, she disappeared into a sea of eleven year-olds who were awaiting pizza and hula hoops… and I was immediately immersed in my own middle school party memories. It felt as though I, myself, should be handing over the gift cards and joining my friends out back. I could easily distance myself from her grade school experiences, as though I were watching a movie from the back row. Middle school, on the other hand, feels 3-D, as though I can reach out and touch it, as though it’s mine – which makes everything blur and blend in a strange way that I can’t quite distinguish. I just know it’s a unique path in this parenting journey, one that I hadn’t even known existed. Surprise!
I don’t really like surprises.
GrandMeg and Papa flew in for the occasion. Pretty awesome stuff.
Which brings me to the final reason I think this is all so foreign and bizarre: I don’t know what will happen next. Up until now, things were reasonably predictable. School ends; summer; school begins again – same basic schedule, same basic outline, same basic everything. Now, not only does the daily routine become new… I know that Ella, herself, is – in some ways – starting over.
She’ll be the one in charge of her classes and her assignments; we may hardly even know her teachers. She’ll choose electives and clubs. She’ll get herself to and from class – which, by definition, brings about its own form of independence… which is largely achieved by breaking away from us to become her own, independent person.
I know all of this. I know it’s exactly what needs to happen. Ultimately, I want it to happen, because I want Eleanor to become a capable, confident, competent human being who can give back to this crazy world of ours. But right now, the force of the pull for her to become her own independent self is so strong, it’s giving me whiplash.
Humoring me by flashing a smile my way during the ceremony.
This isn’t a bad thing; I’m so enjoying watching her grow and mature and use sarcasm and hold conversations on politics and music and grammar. To put it mildly, she’s a fantastic, kind, funny, intelligent, good-hearted person – someone I would consider tremendously fortunate to have as a friend – so I feel tremendously fortunate to be her mother. But when she met me outside of school today and told me that she’d been invited to a friend’s house, along with several other buddies… and that she’d prefer to do that than partake in our annual summer tradition of new library books and balloons and snacks… and I let her, because she was so excited and I could almost see her desire to just hang out with her pals — that magnetic, soul-filling balm that is true friendship and which becomes essential right around this time…
Well. It was bittersweet.
Fifth grade, I understand. Fifth grade is wanting to sleep in but not being able to stay up. It’s refusing to acknowledge my presence but then reaching for my hand. It’s being offended that I want to look over her texts but coming to me when she finds a scary passage in a book. Fifth grade is deciding to be a vegetarian for two weeks but also being thrilled when I send a note in her lunchbox. Fifth grade is holding on and letting go and pushing off. It is the natural, logical extension of fourth grade, which basically followed kindergarten, right?
First day of kindergarten – nearly six years ago.
Blue leopard skirt (she chose it herself)… Princess lunchbox and backpack… Bandaid on her shin… Still had all her teeth… FOR THE LOVE.
Sixth grade… and seventh and eighth… Are not the same. We all know and remember this; something changed in middle school. That doesn’t have to be negative – I had a wonderful middle school experience – but it is its own, new thing.
What I’m trying to say is that I’m anxious. I love my girl, and I love my relationship with her – and the relationships she has with Nick and her sister – and I don’t want that to change once she gets to middle school (and beyond). Change is hard (for me).
At last, however, I’m out of excuses and “Not yet!”s. There’s no more time. She’s really done it – elementary school is over. She’s headed on next year whether I like it or not, so if I want to continue enjoying this journey – as surprising as it can be – I’d better come along for the ride.
And, man. I want don’t want to miss this.
Congratulations, my dearest E-Bean. I’m so proud of your six elementary school years – of the person you’re becoming, and the person you already are. As you yourself said, “I did it, mama! OH EM GEE!”
You didn’t just do it. You rocked it.
First and last day, fifth grade.