Last week I said ‘So Long’ to what was my first class of my own students in a very long time. The boys looked a little more nervous than excited about the summer awaiting them, not as confident as their fifth grade counterparts who knew what summer held for them. The first graders have quickly forgotten what it’s like to be a child again for the summer. The school routine quickly takes over their lives and they adjust and assume that this is what it means to be ‘big.’ It’s what we teach them from an early age – ‘so big!’ we say with smiling faces and great anticipation, yearning for the time when they are so big and can do more things for themselves, can go to school, can tie their shoes, can write, can draw, can put their clothes on by themselves. This is what we tell them, and this is what we tell ourselves. That they will be big and that we will have five minutes of peace. So the boys learn to be so big, doing and keeping cadence with a rhythm not of their own making, following in line and listening to others. And then for the summer they can be little again, playing childhood games, wandering away the idle hours, wondering about what to do next. No time to keep, no homework, no uniforms, no teachers, no classmates, no be nice, and play well, no quiet now, and please sit down. No pay attention, when all they will be paying attention to is a frog they are trying to catch in a pond. It is wonderful to return to childhood innocence these days. These little ones don’t know yet what it is like to have summer vacation.
But I do. I love not having to wake to the alarm, having my own children to keep me entertained. It’s been happening for over a month now, the climb to summer. But it comes with a passing, a rite of passage and these are bittersweet. They come with a eager anticipation and leave us with heartfelt sorrow. It started with a Crew banquet, where I realized my son will be a sophomore in high school, and I cried. It started with a Last Baseball Game, where I realized we won’t be returning to the Minors Field again, and I cried. It happened when I marched out behind my first graders at a graduation ceremony so they could walk with their second grade teacher, when I realized all we had done and learned this year and how we loved each other, and I cried. It happened when I took Annie to her Last Day of Seventh Grade, when I realized she is So Big, and I cried. It struck me that what I wish I had said, what I wish I had taught them when they were babies, is “So Long”, for I wish they could be here, be mine, be young, for so long. I want the hours to slow down now. I’m not in a hurry to watch them grow up anymore, to be on their own, be independent, go. I like who they are right now and I wish it would last so long. I like where they are, that my son comes home to his curfew, that they need rides to friends, that they ask me about what they can eat and do and watch. I know it won’t last so long. I’m like the first graders, keenly aware that something is changing, not sure what to expect, sure I can’t go back, not sure I can go forward. I wish it would last so long.
Our oldest, we are told, should start looking at colleges, thinking about what he wants to be, who he will be. It won’t be long.
Our youngest is the only one who still fits under my chin when I hug him. It won’t be long.
I overhear them play and laugh and tease each other – I can’t imagine this house without that noise. But I know it won’t be long.
Yesterday at camp, a boy came to me and nearly with tears in his eyes blurted out, “I miss school.” He was shocked by this seemingly foreign revelation, but I knew just how he was feeling. I told him it was normal and that I did too. But I should have said Don’t worry – it won’t be long. For nothing stays even when we wish it would. School, or summer, or children.
So I say so long to a wonderful school year, and I wish for these days to go on and on - So Long, like a summer of my childhood, where there is magic and the possibilities are endless. And some day for my own children to experience the endless possibilities of their lives. But not yet. Not for so long.