And Just Like That…

Poof! Elementary school is over. I’m sitting here in a bit of a haze, trying to remember how it all started. The day I dropped him off for Kindergarten, kissed my husband bye in the school parking lot, then drove to Walmart, alone, crying. Then proceeded to sit in the car at Walmart, alone, and cry. I wasn’t used to being alone. I was used to my little 50-pound shadow following me everywhere I went. I was used to arguing about whether or not he could ride in the cart. Used to having to hit the toy aisle to look at Hot Wheels, when all I needed was milk and bread. Used to a little voice coming from the backseat to ask, “Can we stop for ice cream if I’m good?” Of course we stopped for ice cream. Of course he was always good.

Today when I do a Target run he says he doesn’t want to go. He’d rather log onto Minecraft with friends. But then right before I walk out the door he comes running up, throws his arms around me. “Mommy, bring me back something,” he will say. It’s pretty different now, but also pretty much the same. Now I have a 100-pound shadow. This shadow follows me around to tell me about YouTube videos and this “sick” arrest he made in this “pretty cool” cops and robbers game on Roblox. Now I have to remind my 100-pound shadow to wear deodorant, to do the dishes, to figure out where that smell is coming from in his room. And I hear it only gets worse.

Friday morning we all gathered around the living room television to watch the live stream of Jackson’s Fifth Grade Graduation. Jackson wore a suit, with my cap and gown on top of it. Jerimiah wore a button-up, I donned a summer dress. We watched for an hour as the teachers and administrators shared touching memories, heartfelt messages, and love, so much love, with the only class in the school’s history to not have a Fifth Grade Graduation on stage. It was different, but also the same.

Jackson won several awards, including being named a DeKalb County Board Scholar, along with five other fifth graders. He is one of the smartest, the brightest, of the group. Of course we didn’t need an award to tell us that, but it was nice to be recognized for all the hard work. His hard work, our hard work as parents, and his teachers’ hard work as well. For being a kid that went to four different elementary schools, in four different districts, in three different states, you certainly would never know it. He’s been steadfast about two things: Making friends and doing his best, and that has been abundantly clear over the last few months. His friends blow up his phone all day with messages, emails, FaceTimes, and then there are the cards that arrive in the mail from different places. We shouldn’t be surprised, but sometimes we are.

Mr. Budd read a poem to his class this afternoon and it was the only time that I wanted to cry. The past two months have been a blur of activity and of hard work. Of moving from one fire to another, but the hardest part was stopping myself every time I made a decision about my son. Was this going to be good for him? Help in some way? Do I make him structure his day like school? Take breaks? Get it all done in one setting? Do I let him play Minecraft for four hours on a Tuesday while he Facetimes a friend? Of course the answer to that one is yes, because I have a social child who needs interaction. He saw his classmates six hours a day, now he could sit in isolation all day long if I let him, but I refuse to do that. I don’t want him to be lonely, to feel left behind. I want him to know that there is a wide world of people out there just like him, and hopefully they have parents that understand this too. The poem reminded me of this. Reminded me of the way we are all probably feeling from time to time right now. Alone, without a clear path. The poem Mr. Budd read was Wild Geese by Mary Oliver. The last two lines go like this, “Whoever you are, no matter how lonely/the world offers itself to your imagination/calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting–/over and over announcing your place in the family of things.”

We have a running joke in the house. Jackson was working on a project early in the school year and as usual his mind was working quicker than his mouth and he was trying to say, “I’m in fifth grade” and “I’m a fifth grader” at the same time and he blurted out, “I grade five!” We all cracked up. And all year whenever he thinks too hard, or gets frustrated with himself because he thinks he can’t “get” a math question, we stop and say, “I grade five!” It gets us back on track. Let’s us laugh. Slow down a minute. Reminds us that we are all in this together. That we have each other. It means love. So yeah, we are proud of this kid of ours beyond measure. And yeah, we hope that his successes in elementary school equate to big successes in life, but we know there will be struggles along the way. We know there will be crying in parking lots. There will be hours upon hours of virtual playdates. We will feel lonely. He will feel lonely. Because we know this isn’t fifth grade anymore. But we are ready.

We love you, Jackson. We are so proud of you. We hope you always listen to the geese.

I grade six.


Fifth Grade

I distinctly remember my last day of fifth grade. I remember loading up my desk remnants into my bookbag. Broken pencils, smashed pieces of crayons, and little nubs of erasers falling out all over my area. I remember Mrs. Coughran, my fifth grade teacher, the one who had terrified me on the first day of school, for her direct eye contact and her “strict” reputation. I remember her being a little sad, but also proud. I remember her telling us that we would go on to do great things, all of us. I remember walking through the halls of the elementary school I had walked into as a shy, crying kindergartener. I remember stopping in to see my fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Albright, who had taught us about outlining and fractions. I remember Mrs. Heim, my first grade teacher, grabbing me into a big hug and saying how she would miss my smiling face. I remember walking out of the building that day with my friends, waving, proud of what we had accomplished, but so uncertain and sad about what we were leaving, what lay ahead.

Yesterday was Jackson’s last instructional day of classes. In the real world, that would mean the rest of the week would be pure nonsense. Days of fun! Teacher versus Fifth Grade Kickball, a Fifth Grade Day of Fun, a graduation, to promote them to middle schoolers, to recognize their achievements, an all-school awards ceremony, where surely he would clean up. Instead, he logged onto a Zoom call to play a trivia game. (The teachers smoked the fifth graders, by the way, surely not the turnout the kickball game would have had.)

But it was fun. It was nice to see the smiling faces. It was something we’ve become accustomed to over the last two months, and it surely worked so well because of the relationship that had already formed in those seven months together as a cohesive unit. We don’t know at this point what next year will look like, and honestly, we aren’t trying to think too much about it. We are focusing on staying safe, talking to our friends when we can, and planning summer activities to take our minds far from where we are, even if our bodies don’t leave the house. In short: This has been different than what we expected, but we learned how to adjust our expectations. We learned to adapt. We learned, and isn’t that what school is all about?

Today Jackson is working on a letter to the fifth graders next year, a rite of passage the kids get on the first day. They get to read advice from the kids who sat in their seats the year before, they get let in on secrets, and jokes, and advice on how to get through fifth grade. He’s taking it seriously. He knows the importance of being a fifth grader, of being a leader, and he knows now, that not everything happens the way we wanted it to, or planned it to, and that’s okay. We will all be okay.

Hope you are okay today.


Fifth Grade is Almost Over

Jackson’s teacher just sent a video in which he said that there is only one week and one day left in the school year and I actually had a fucking panic attack. How is this possible? Well, it’s possible because the school year was cut short, and time goes on, every day, even on days you want it to slow down, or allow you to have a redo because you are living in a global pandemic. But you know what I mean. It’s a sad day for me, realizing my kid is almost finished with elementary school. I remember the day he got his little diploma in Kindergarten. I remember seeing the “big kids” on their fifth-grade graduation day and being excited for Jackson’s. But here we are. So how am I dealing with it? Kicking it into high gear!

I started working on a video for the class. Turns out all the time I spent in the classroom this year, all the times I made the kids take pics, all the time spent yelling, “Oh my goodness (insert name) turn around so I can get you in this picture!” paid off. I now have a little nest egg of fifth-grader pics and I am putting them to good use. I’m hoping to wow the kids, and their teacher, and the other parents. Working on it, working on it, working on it. I’ll let you know if it works. Until then, I’ll just be running around, collecting Venmos from other parents for a teacher gift card, begging for “action” shots from people on Field Day, and generally running my phone battery down to the bare minimum while I make this thing work. It has to work.

Wish me luck!