I admit it: I can be sentimental. I cry over children’s books. I cry when I hear the NBC Olympics theme. I cry at commercials (Google Chrome, I’m looking at you).
I do not, however, generally get all mushy about my children growing up. Sure, I feel pangs of nostalgia when I see their pictures or old videos, but I don’t miss them as babies or toddlers. In fact, I find that I enjoy them more with each passing year — every age is better than the last.
Part of this is due to them simply being more capable, with their level of self-suffience correlating directly in inverse proportions to my level of needing to poke my eyes out. Gone are the days of Dora and her curiously Brooklyn-accented Backpack, of cutting food into bite-sized morsels, of “Moooommy, come wipe me!” and “But I can’t do my zipper!” and “We do not lick the table, not even if there’s chocolate on it.”
Okay, maybe some of us are still licking tables (especially for chocolate), but the daily grind of parenthood is a little less exhausting. Conversely, I love that, as they grow, we can do more together: see movies that don’t only involve singing woodland animals; read books where the plot isn’t written in poorly rhyming couplets; travel and not have to pack enough items for the plane to entertain a group of monkeys; go on hikes where no one has declared they “can’t go another step!” five minutes in; understand – and use – sarcasm (or, as I like to call it, English).
So, I like it, this growing up. I really, really do.
I just don’t like how fast everything goes, because suddenly, bam!, they’ll be 34 and pregnant and we’re whining because we don’t see our grandbabies often enough. SO. FAST.
Life has been really crazy, end-of-school and say-goodbye-to-Maddy busy, so actually thinking about Annie and Ella finishing school — being done with kindergarten and second grade, leaving their friends, moving on — just hadn’t happened… yet. On Tuesday, Annie began drawing her teacher thank-you pictures while I did work on the computer, grateful that we were able to conduct our business side by side. And then it began to dawn on me that this was how it had been all year — Annie and me, side by side every morning, until she got on the bus. At first, I’d worried that this together-time would be a pain in the neck, but it actually turned out well. She could entertain herself sufficiently enough that I could accomplish other things, was a genuinely good helper, and she loved to play games. Pretty much every morning before school, we’d play something together, and it quickly became one of the things I looked forward to the most: just relaxing for a moment, no calls, no emails. Just Annie and me. And tiny little game pieces.
As I sat there next to her, typing away, it occurred to me — out of the blue, and hit me with an actual force that I felt somewhere in my chest — that we wouldn’t be doing this ever again, not in the same way. Our side-by-side mornings were ending. Forever. And, despite how thrilled I was to have more time to myself, to look for a teaching job, to get things done – I would miss her. A lot.
I quickly finished up what I’d been working on and suggested that we do something together. She happily agreed and invited me into her room. Once there, I looked wistfully around… And noticed her pajamas strewn on her floor. Her quilt all bunched up on her bed. Her stuffed animals lying Tasmanian-devil-style about the room. And I began to feel my skin crawl, and the urge to escape the mess began to override my desire to hang out with my child. I heard that little voice in my head urging me on, “Ignore it! Enjoy her!” and went over to where she was coloring. I picked up a marker and began to draw a fish… and fought the urge to pick up a stray sock sock that was lying on her desk. “Focus on Annie!” I doodled a seahorse and tried to chat with her… but my eyes kept wandering to the books on her bed, the ones I’d asked her to put away maybe 4,832 times, give or take. “Don’t worry about that! Have FUN! She can clean later!” With renewed purpose, I set out to help her color in the ocean’s water… and realized that there was a stuffed animal hanging from her ceiling fan. “SCREW THIS! WERE YOU BORN IN A BARN?? THIS IS WHY PEOPLE DON’T HAVE CHILDREN! SINCE WHEN IS ‘COLORING’ AN ACCEPTABLE TWO-PERSON ACTIVITY?? MY STARFISH LOOKS LIKE CRAP. I WON’T MISS THIS. WHEN IS THE BUS COMING???”
I managed to finish the ocean landscape and then informed her — a bit too gleefully — that it was almost time for lunch and school. She ate up, hopped on the bus, and I eagerly set about my afternoon work. Three o’clock rolled around all too quickly, and I sighed as I went to pick her up, bemoaning all of the to-do list items I’d yet to check off.
When I asked her how her day had been, she – as usual – told me it had been great. But then she paused, looked up and said, “Mommy? I was scared to start kindergarten. Now, I’m scared to leave.”
Daddy says that’s called bittersweet.”
Well, baby, sometimes Daddy nails it (if you know what I mean, *wink wink*… Ahem. Sorry). And yes. That’s what it’s called. *sigh*
On Wednesday morning, after taking last-day-of-school photos, I bid Ella goodbye, savoring one last second-grade morning joke. Annie attended art class and we played a game of Ludo. At lunch, nostalgia taking over, I attempted to have a meaningful conversation with her about how delightful these kindergarten mornings had been, but she was more interested in riding her bike, so I decided I’d had enough nostalgia for one day.
I went to school to meet with the other room mom and drop off the class’s teacher gifts, thinking we’d be in and out in ten minutes and I’d soon have a Starbucks in hand, enjoying my last few hours of freedom. Within moments of arriving, however, her teacher was in tears, recalling the amazing year it had been, the other room rep was weepy, Annie’s helper teacher was thanking me for “allowing” her to teach both of my incredible daughters, and suddenly there I was, choking out, “But they’re only ‘incredible’ because of teachers like you!” and Anne was all, “MOM!! Seriously, with the tears!”
Well, after that, the afternoon was a blur, and again – all too soon – it was time to pick them up… But this time, I wasn’t bemoaning my undone to-do list. Instead, I was steeling myself for one of the greatest traditions ever:
School ends, but no one leaves. All of the teachers and staff line the sidewalks, the walkers and bike-riders remain behind, parents come to the school instead of taking kids away, middle-schoolers return for five minutes, and neighbors, even those without young children, set up chairs on their lawns to watch as the buses circle three times, honking like mad, students hanging out of the windows. There is waving and cheering and more than a few tears.
It is the start of summer!
It is freedom! It is watermelon! It is later bedtimes and un-rushed breakfasts! It is water balloons and squirt guns and popsicles dripping down your chin! It is vacation and raspberry picking and no homework!
It is moving on from one grade and into another, leaving your teachers and classmates behind for a couple of months, unsure what the future holds.
It is bittersweet.