parenting

Good-Bye Elementary School Years

10:32 AMHeather

It's SO cliche, I know, but there's no better way to say it. So, I just have to say it again. The years fly by. Like in a flash. I mean, I've blogged about it upteen times, but somehow my teeny tiny babies are doing insane things like driving cars and taking SAT's and looking at colleges. All three of my little darlings are taller than I am, and the fact that I can breeze right by the children's section in the department store makes me feel all nostalgic and sad and misty eyed.

Turns out that white haired lady in Target was right. The day she told me to just enjoy every minute because it goes by so quickly. And I wanted to deck her because my little monkeys were hiding in the middle of the clothes rack and running around the aisles and the baby in the grocery cart was sucking on the germ-filled nasty cart handle like it was a teething toy. 

(Back in my day, we didn't have cute little cloth grocery cart covers to protect our babies from germs whilst shopping like all you young trendy moms of today).  

While she meant to be encouraging and kind, I was simply pulling my hair out. And I wanted to offer her my children for the day so SHE could enjoy them and I could shop for the three things I needed in no time flat instead of the painful ordeal that shopping with three children had become.

Deep sighs. 

All these years later, she was right. I should have smiled more graciously instead of with gritted teeth at her. 

Be still my heart that baby bird #1 flies the nest next year. 

While I sit over here ready to burst into tears and cry through the rendition of Wayne Watson's Watercolor Ponies that is playing in my head. I can't help but reminisce. And think back through the years.

And then, I realize it. I realize that all this growing up stuff is actually as SWEET as it is BITTER.

This year, for the first time, I drive by the elementary school, and I have no children there. None. In fact, when my son drove us by the old school yesterday, we saw the ridiculously long line waiting to go through the pick-up line. He said, "UGH. Glad we aren't there any more!"

Oh, yes. Mothers of Littles, let me paint you a little picture. Let me forewarn you of the greatness to come. Mothers of teens, let me remind you anew of the incredible mountains we have climbed and conquered.


So, here, I present to you, the things I do not miss about the Elementary School Years. 

1. Reading Logs-- What kind of evil invention is this? I tell you, there are Mother Haters out there who came up with this sadistic idea. Somewhere, in a dark room filled with smoke, THEY sat around and contrived this idea of asking small children who are not even taught to write cursive to fill out reading logs. 

Who are we kidding here, school admin? Moms fill this out. Moms are responsible for this. You may SAY its homework for the kids, but it's really homework for the MOMS. Because nothing says "Welcome Home from School," in a nurturing way like requiring that children be conned into filling out some little form EVERY. DADGUM. NIGHT. While their mothers breathe down their neck. 

And those same mothers are throwing some stack of board books toward the aforementioned child and saying, "LOOK. Just read these to your little sister. And count it toward that book challenge. Then fill out the dang form." 

Listen, for the record, all reading logs become enjoyable and delightful when compared with the READING REFLECTION LOG that one of my children was required to fill out nightly one year. An entire paragraph. Every night. Answering certain reflective questions. In other words, pure torture. For the child. And her mother. And, likely for the poor teacher, too, who had to look at twenty of those paragraphs every day because someone told her this was to happen.

2. Take-Home Folder. A close cousin to the reading log, or perhaps the all encompassing container for the reading logs, is the dreaded take-home folder. Where every single night, you get to try to discern the behavior chart and code that your child's teacher this year uses. It takes the better part of the year to get the color scheme down and you realize that green is good, yellow is not-so-much, and red is, "Heaven help us, mother of this child! Get your kid in line!" There was even a year where children in this beloved teacher's class could earn UP from green. An entire rainbow of possibilities existed. My kid could go up and down all the live long day and it was anyone's guess on which color the day would end. 

You finally learn the system, and then-- not so fast, Mama -- the next year brings a new teacher with a new system and you start all over again. Remembering to sign the folder every night sounds easy. But it's not. Especially when you have multiple children in the same school. And then you get that little abbreviation system when your kid doesn't earn a sticker for the day and you have to determine what ET means for the violation and what the heck to do about it. Because you suddenly want to just say, "ET! Phone home!" But you realize that the teacher is too young to have even seen that great movie of your childhood. So you look frantically through the folder to find the decoder chart. Ugh. ET means Excessive Talking. 

The only thing worse than these abbreviations is when your kid does something that escapes category. And the teacher offers a vague three word phrase about the offense your child committed. So you have to decide if you want to:

a. Call the teacher for clarification
b. Believe your child's version of it
c. Initial the thing and then figure out what to cook for dinner

3. Book Parade-- I actually always had a love/hate relationship with the Book Parade at our kids' school. It fell on Halloween. So in other words, it was an attempt to put an educational spin on the idea of allowing small children to dress up in costume, minus the idea of handing out candy. The idealistic sales pitch went something like this:

Dear Parents,
 To further encourage our children toward the love of reading, we will celebrate their progress on their reading logs and the 25 Book Challenge by allowing the children to choose their favorite character from a book. On Friday, October 31, your child can bring their favorite book and dress like the main character as they parade through the school holding their book. You are cordially invited at 8:00 on that day to come and participate in the festivities.

Here's the reality. Your kid decides what they want to wear to dress up for Trick or Treating. Once they have chosen their most desired costume, you scour the book shelves at home or the library or your friend's home to find a matching book. Your child may have never even read that book. But it doesn't matter. You painstakingly help the child put the costume together, all the while celebrating your frugal multitasking skills that you managed ONE costume for a school event AND Halloween. On said morning, you walk in with your child and enjoy all the ooh's and ahh's of admiration for their costume as they sprint off to class. Then, it's a bloodbath to jockey for position to watch the parade. You stand and push and smile ever-so-sweetly as you attempt to make your way to the front. So you can then stand for approximately 15 minutes waiting for the parade, readying your camera. You see your child's teacher with her class following behind like little ducks. You get ready. And then, in 5 seconds, your kid blows by you and you manage only a blur for photographic evidence of this big event.

Here's the trick, Elementary School Moms. It's actually one my middle child taught me. VIDEO the darn thing. Yes, that's right. VIDEO the parade. And then later, you can go back and snatch a still photo from the video that more accurately captures that brief second of glory that was your kid awkwardly blowing by you with their book held upside down and a big smile on their face because they beat the system, man. They got to dress up for Halloween AT school.

4. Lunch with a Loved One. Okay, really? I fell for that bait and switch the first year. I embraced the idea that my little sweet heart would be oh-so-happy to have her mother come eat lunch with her in the very middle of her school day. How lovely! To encourage parental involvement and to embrace my kids being small enough that they wanted Mom around and proudly showed me off to all their friends.

Whatever.

Here's the real deal, for you rookie Elementary School Moms. The day should really be called, "Come Eat With Your Kid and Spend All Your Money at our Book Fair that Conveniently Occurs DURING THIS SPECIAL LUNCH." 

I caved. I did. I did it a couple of times. Alright. So it's really like some Ponzi Scheme to get parents to spend money. But it's all for a good cause. Books. Love of reading. Reading logs. Book challenges. Future Book Parade costume ideas.

N-O. The reality was my little darling wanted me to come spend my money to buy her massive posters of little kitty cats that totally don't match my decorating scheme AND she wanted scented pencils. 

I'm on to you, so called "Lunch with Loved Ones." I dug my heels in and refused to cave to the system. Peaceful silent protest of non-participation.

Until her last year of elementary. And then, all bets are off. Because, it's my last ever Lunch with Loved Ones. Here's $45 to purchase some stickers, a poster, and some craft kit that will be lost within 24 hours.

5. School Assemblies. Again, a rather love/hate relationship. It is marvelous and moving and adorable to watch these little elementary kids dance a Mexican folk dance and sing patriotic songs that make me cry little silent tears for Grandparent Day. 

And, yes, don't they all look lovely on Award Day when they get their reading certificates that finally celebrate all those hours of reading logs. Their name is announced and they walk up to the stage with their gawky pre-teen body and clumsily hug their teacher on stage. And you attempt to capture THE moment with your phone. Your heart swells with pride, as does theirs, and you just feel such a thrill that you've survived another year.

Except there's a dark side. A sinister side. One every parent and grandparent feels as the cloud hangs over you all and yet everyone ignores it with a painted on smile.

Because these school assemblies remind me of something else. Something not quite so pleasant.

Oh, yes.

The Hunger Games. 

Listen, it's a savage dog-eat-dog world in that school cafeteria to somehow manage a good seat with a perfectly unobstructed view and an excellent camera angle. You politely elbow and press and move into position, half-expecting Effie Trinket herself to come take the microphone and announce to you all-- "May the odds be ever in your favor!" You smile sweetly at the woman in the front row, while you ask, "Are you saving those seats?" And inside you are thinking, "Lady, are you a Duggar? Because surely you don't need the whole entire row." Once the initial rounds of play are complete and hopefully no blood is drawn, you settle in for the show. Completely oblivious to the fact that like the Third Quarter Quell is coming at you.

Oh, yes. Panem has announced the next phase to the brutal position for power.

In other words, getting the picture of your kid on the stage with her entire grade while not taking a picture of the 30 other iPhones that are blocking your view. Somehow, you try to hold the camera up, although you know it is blocking the camera behind you. You maneuver to the right and then to the left, hoping that you can later crop out all those other iPhones in the photo between your vantage point and your little love's face.

And there's always one. You know, that ONE mom. With a boldness like Johanna Mason, who thinks herself to be the victor above all. Yep. That ONE mom who just stands up and walks in front of all the cameras, blocking everyone's shot, so that she can approach the stage within three feet to get the best picture of all.

You despise her and you envy her all at the same time. You want the picture she got. And yet you hate her lack of regard for the politely unspoken rules of the games.

Oh, yes. Elementary School. When we, as mothers, walk on wobbly new legs into the school arena. Where we learn to share our children with other adults who will invest in them and guide them and teach them. Where we learn that superheroes don't wear capes, but they wear cute little blingy shirts announcing their school pride for the place where they teach. Where you want to bow at their feet and aptly thank them for all they do for "their kids" because they call your child their very own. Where you forge new relationships with other moms and learn the lingo of Elementary School, and someday you vow to teach it to the next class of Rookie Moms. Where you look up to Middle School Moms and beg of them to show you the way to precious new ideas like registering for electives. 

Elementary School. It held such pitfalls and victories. Such defeats and challenges and hard fought battles. Teacher conferences and phone calls and learning how to best advocate for your child and how to partner with their teachers. Playground politics and learning how to help your child navigate the tricky world of joining in with a Four Square Game because their BFF suddenly ran off with another girl to go swing and talk privately. Field Days and class parties. Teacher Appreciation and Fifth Grade Graduation.

I lived in this world for 11 years. For eleven years, I had a child in elementary school. And it was a gloriously tricky time. Yet, it was familiar. It felt like home because I had come to know the lingo. I had come to speak the language. And now, just like that... it's over.

So, I drive by the elementary school and see the itty bitty kids who look way to small to be walking home alone. Of course, that is compared to my children who now tower over me. And I feel a pang of nostalgia.

But then, I remind myself. No more reading logs. No more book parades. No more take-home folders.

I utter a silent prayer of thanksgiving. 

Thank you, Lord, for getting us through all that. Thank you for bringing us this far. Thank you for walking me through all the next chapters. All the next adventures. All the new challenges and the launching of children into their futures.

Bring it.

Because you've got this.

And give me the boldness to become the Johanna Mason. So focused on my own race that I don't even look around me.

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