Today my oldest daughter had her 5th grade graduation. Let me go on record as saying I don’t believe 5th grade Graduation is a real thing. You have simply attended the school you were legally required to attend. You have made no choices academically other than following directions. 5th grade graduation is really more of an accomplishment for your parents. They got you enrolled in school, got you there every day, signed your behavior charts, supplied poster board and rubber cement and used up all of their sanity. But this day was for the children. And as much as I wanted to pretend that there was no big milestone happening today…I could feel the emotions in the air. My baby girl was graduating!
It feels like just a minute ago that I was attending Kindergarten Readiness Discussion Panels. Like many first time moms I was so nervous about whether my kid was “ready” for kindergarten. So many people talked about the benefit of holding kids back a year that I was nervous to send her! I am so glad that the panels and preschool teachers left me feeling confident that my girl was ready to go. I remember the mom who stood up to “ask” if her child was ready because he was already reading books independently. She was almost as obnoxious as I’m about to be…Um. Yep. My kid was reading, too. She knew the planets in order and even knew the names of their moons. Really she could have taught me a few things. So we settled in for kindergarten and before we relaxed had the decision of which school to send her to. When I was little this was easy. Your neighborhood could go to one school. So you went there. But now we have school choice. Our rental home was in a district where schools were dramatically underfunded and struggling and being closed, and so we opted to send Sophia to the neighboring Yorktown schools instead. This decision meant I had to drop her off and pick her up each day. I lost so many hours in the carline I can’t count them. But I only had one other child in school, and his preschool was done before pick up, and so we made it work for our little girl.
Her kindergarten teacher was a lovely woman beginning her final year teaching. I think the coming retirement allowed her to relax and enjoy her final year in a way that is hard for teachers with no light at the end of the tunnel. I made a substantial first impression on her when I arrived at “Meet the Teacher” Night and had to explain that my daughter would miss a few days of school because my sister-in-law had just lost her battle with cancer. She hugged me when I burst into tears and thus began our relationship.
Despite sobbing in her teacher’s arms, I approached school without feeling like I needed to be there for much. I remember Sophia playing the part of Mother Goose in her class play, but other than that I sort of began my parenting career with the mindset that school was for my children. A place for them to be themselves, to grow, to form relationships and to safely be away from me. A few months later, Nick got the job at Wake Forest, and it was Mrs. Nixon’s turn for tears. She and Sophia had loved their time together and everyone was sad that it was coming to an abrupt ending. Knowing that a teacher could love my kid enough to cry when she was leaving gave me confidence that my kids would be okay away from me.
When we looked for a house in North Carolina my first concern was the elementary schools. I wanted my kids to go to school with their neighbors and to have a great elementary school experience. Well we couldn’t have chosen better. Sophia went on to have teachers she loved in every grade. My first parent-teacher conference with her first grade teacher I wasn’t sure what to expect. Like most parents, I think my kids are brilliant. And hearing her teacher tell me things that she thought were special about my child was so beautiful and changed my relationship with our school. I stopped feeling like this was just our “next stop” for school and started feeling like we had found “home.” When we had choices to make a few years in about sending Sophia to another elementary for another program I felt strongly that the best place for her to be was right in the building she loved. With her brother and eventually her sisters, too. I have never regretted that decision.
Sending your first child to school is especially daunting because for the first time you don’t know everything that happens in their day. I didn’t know why she was sad if she had a rough day. I hadn’t learned the new things she learned, or read the book she was reading. I will say that I have a family of talkers on my hands and so I do get a pretty play-by-play rundown of what happens at school. And Sophia would love nothing more than to tell me about the books she is reading. I wanted to protect my kids from harm, but as much as that, I just wanted to know that people at school would know them and love them. The teachers we have been blessed to have certainly went above and beyond any hopes I may have had. Her 3rd grade teacher, Ms. Lipe, wrote the students notes at the end of their school year, and I have seen Sophia re-reading it and treasuring that feeling of being known. And loved.
This last year in Elementary school was hard for me because it meant new decisions to make. I feel strongly that we are making a good decision regarding middle school and the desire to attend our neighborhood school and to keep our kids in the same buildings as their siblings. Today after school Sophia told me why she valued Mrs. Patten, her teacher this year, so much. “She prepares us for the next steps, Mom. She sees the ways we need to grow and helps us achieve them. She pushes us to be more.” And she really did just that. Sophia’s teacher encouraged her to enter her poetry in contests. To be a leader in the classroom. To explore the subjects that fascinate her. She pushed her. And her successes this year will be the fuel that encourages her to push herself in other pursuits in the future, too.
As this day approached, I was worried because I didn’t have any extravaganza planned for my graduate. Nick had to work a football camp, so it was just me and Will there to clap for her. But Sophia was in a hurry to leave afterwards, which I later realized was because she was excited to have a day with just me (and Will!) so we stopped by Baked Just SO, and she got an apple pie. We returned the potted palms the school had borrowed to decorate for the ceremony. We grabbed lunch at The Porch. And then as her baby brother napped we played Clue and Scrabble. (And I crushed her in three games in a row. Because she may be a graduate, but I wasn’t about to let her win!) And I was reminded of how often what parents worry about is not at all what the kids really care about. Because she told me many times that she had a great day!
Despite my attitude to start, as I sat in the gym watching the 5th grade class file in for graduation, I realized just how important this “graduation” turned out to be. It was a way to mark the completion of their elementary education. They are moving on to bigger things. It was a way to mark the completion of this type of parenting; we, too, are moving on to bigger things. The foundation is there now. And my kiddo is ready to build upon it. I only cried a little bit during the ceremony. (I also had a rambunctious 3-year-old on my lap…so much of my emotion was hovering between sentimental and frustrated.) But today I know that my daughter is ready for the next step. She is ready for the next school. But first, I think we are all ready for summer.