Growing Up Together

Today was my eldest child’s last day of kindergarten. The school year has been dragging limply and weakly along, nudging itself just far enough with the help of Field Day, parties, and movies to make up for those long-ago January snow days. My five year old is totally schooled out. She could use a long stretch with no rigid schedules, no behavioral modifications via color-coded chart, and no dress code. A month of Sundays is what she needs, lolling upside down on the couch in her underwear, reading the comics.

So yes. We were all ready for school to be over. But I was surprised to discover I wasn’t ready for my daughter to be finished with kindergarten. When I dropped her off this morning, watching as she ran up the steps with teacher presents in each hand, that enormous backpack bumping against her little body to the rhythm of her steps, ponytail askew and swinging merrily, I couldn’t make myself drive away. Her last day of kindergarten. I held up the car line, watching as she slipped through the heavy double doors under a big kid’s arm. How did this happen? I wanted school to be over, but I didn’t want it to be over over. As in the kind of over that you cannot get back. I was flooded with nostalgia, unable to press my foot to the gas pedal and thereby participate in this whole moving forward, full-speed-ahead thing that is obviously happening all around me, with or without my consent.

The thing is, I have noticed with surprise lately that I am able to put more creative energy into writing, gardening, and other cherished pursuits; not only that, I am able to evaluate things independently of how they relate to my children. They are growing up, and I am growing with them. It’s funny, because as I look around and realize with delight how much more my mind and body are my own these days, a part of me has been thinking more than ever about when the children were tiny babies. Remembering the physical intimacy that blurred boundaries unlike anything I’ve ever experienced: nursing a tiny golden babe, watching her peaceful face in profile, or falling asleep with a little one curled in the crook of my arm.

Isn’t change always like this? You can’t get a break. Just as I am leaving that time, and glorying in all the goodness waiting for me beyond it, a voice inside is absolutely yelping in protest. Don’t leave those babies behind!

But what can I do? Somehow over the course of many days and nights, inhabiting this strange temporal reality of very long (sometimes excruciatingly so) moments embedded within days that breeze by in a blur, so fast you can’t remember whether it is Monday or Tuesday or Friday already, my babies have become kids. Before too long, I’ll be marveling at my big teenagers who can do incredible things, and remembering them at age five with an ache of bittersweet longing in the pit of my stomach.

Parenting is just so weird. You can’t wait for them to get bigger, and you can’t bear for them to change. Anyway you look at it, it hurts. But then again, the growing up thing isn’t easy for kids, either. Tonight, as I lingered in the doorway of my daughter’s room saying one last goodnight, a piece of lined paper on the surface of her desk caught my eye. She had written the title in big, cheerful letters: “Should you go back to preschool? Take this test!” Below it she had written a handful of math problems, drawn a place to draw a self-portrait, and noted a place to write some sentences. She had made herself a quiz, just to be sure. Should she go back to preschool, or continue on to first grade? She hadn’t filled out her quiz; it lay there on the desk in the dark, waiting to be completed.

What will first grade be like? For that matter, what will being the parent of a first grader be like? The unknowable nature of where parenthood will take us is a big part of the push in the push-and-pull we feel as our children grow. We change with them. There are so many surprises waiting, and they are not only about who my kids will become. They’re about the person I am becoming in relationship with them as they grow. I never knew I loved tending a garden before. I never thought of myself as a writer. Without my kids taking so much of me, and then slowly giving it back – transformed – I could never have arrived at this place, luxuriating in the writing time that a peaceful post-bedtime house affords, gazing through the screen door at the swaying birdfeeder hanging in the darkening trees.

Thanks, kiddos.

 

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About Meagan Howell

Meagan Howell is a freelance writer and social worker who loves art, books, yoga, friends, music, being outside, and helping to build communities of all sorts. Meagan lives in Maryland with her husband and two children and writes about motherhood at Homemade Time.