Thursday, June 13, 2019

Farewell, Lafayette

Today my two older children will walk into their elementary school for the last time as students. This afternoon they officially become middle schoolers.

For the past seven years, they’ve traveled the same hallways of Lafayette Regional, selected books from the same library shelves, eaten lunch and had PE class and sung during concerts in the “Multi-Purpose Room,” and – for the most part – seen the same teachers around the school.

I’ve found myself reflecting throughout the closing school year on my children’s progression from tiny kindergarteners to confident sixth graders – and of my progression through those years as their mom.

Like parents everywhere, no matter the age of their offspring, I have often wondered at the quick passage of time – this year, perhaps, more than others. (And I empathize with the parents of the kids who were 6th graders the year mine were in kindergarten; those former 6th graders graduated from high school last week!)

I have a distinct memory of entering Lafayette on the kids’ first day there, of standing nervously to the side of the lobby toward the kindergarten classroom while the principal held Morning Meeting, of noticing how BIG the 6th graders seemed – and how tiny my kindergarteners in comparison.

Now, those once tiny kindergarteners are the big kids. The ones moving on in a couple of months to another school, where they’ll again be the youngest. Until they are – suddenly, I’m sure it will seem again – the oldest, the ones ready, once more, to move on.

There were many things they’d looked forward to as they entered sixth grade: helping the 1st graders with Halloween pumpkin carving and holiday gingerbread houses, working on robots for FIRST LEGO League, and most especially the end-of-school-year Festival of the Arts.

The sixth graders run this much-anticipated event, starting on the planning back at the beginning of the school year, selecting a theme (kept secret until the day of FOA), designing various stations of crafts and sports, writing and producing a skit they perform for the entire school, and running the whole show when the big day arrives.

My children still remember their first FOA, as kindergarteners, when the theme was Super Heroes and they came home with shields and masks they had made, with help from “the big kids,” along with lots of stories about the day.

This year, as the morning of FOA arrived, beyond the excitement, they were both feeling the pressure of being part of a group in charge of something. Their class did an amazing job. In part, that’s because it’s a great group of kids. In part it’s because their teachers, the ones who have guided them from kindergarten right through sixth grade, whether in the classroom or in some integral support role, are awesome.

This culminating year at Lafayette has been one of lasts for my older two children. It started with their last first day of elementary school back in August and has ramped up the past few weeks to include several others: last spring concert in this school, last “normal Friday” at Lafayette, last Festival of the Arts, and now the last day.

Amid all the lasts of the past several weeks, several firsts have also been sprinkled in. The Lafayette 6th graders have met their Bethlehem counterparts, who will be their classmates over the next six years of schooling. They’ve visited Profile and met their middle school teachers – who, my kids report, are also awesome. They’ve put in their requests for elective classes and signed up for fall soccer.

For probably the first time in their young lives, my kids are experiencing the weird emotional juxtaposition of sad and excited. Excited to be moving on to middle school – new building, new teachers, new opportunities for learning and sports and friends. Sad to be leaving a place that feels a little bit like home and a staff that seems a little bit like family.

Both kids have been talking lots about the memories they have of their elementary school years. For me, a couple of good ones come to mind.

The first is of the holiday concert their kindergarten year. That year, my daughter – despite her love of school – cried every morning at drop-off, struggling with that daily separation from me. She was shy and mostly quiet. But the evening of the concert, she stood, front and center on the stage, and boogied for all she was worth to the Penguin Polka. It made my heart sing – even if that dang song still gets stuck in my head. (This year she was thrilled to be the emcee of the talent show and to get back on stage for the FOA skit.)

A few years later, my son wanted to read a poem during Poetry Night. His teachers have always encouraged the children to participate in Poetry Night and the annual talent show and any other chance to stand up and perform, to show a bit of themselves to the audience of other kids, teachers, parents and grandparents. While far from the class clown, my boy has a sense of humor that is subtle, but sure. He selected Shel Silverstein’s “Warning” to read. If you don’t know the poem, look it up – and beware the sharp-toothed snail who lives inside your nose.

Back then, 6th grade seemed far away, and middle school was a glimmer on the distant horizon. Now, here we are. They’re ready. They’ve been preparing for this step since that first day of kindergarten. 

Original content by Meghan McCarthy McPhaul, posted to her blog, Writings From a Full Life. This essay also appears as Meghan's Close to Home column in the June 14, 2019 issue of the Littleton Record.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

In Praise of Dandelions

When they were little, my children would pick dandelions by the armful. They’d load them onto the backs of their tricycles, weave them into gold-and-green crowns, and bring me bouquets – grasped in small hands and presented with proud grins. It didn’t matter much that those clutches of dandelions soon wilted, even when placed into cups of water – there were always more yellow blooms where they’d come from.

Some people hate dandelions to the point of waging (hapless) war against them. This is something I’ve never understood. Dandelions are hardy and sunny. They’re among the first blooms to pop up each spring, when nature’s palette is quite bland, and will propagate well into summer, after other (less resilient) blooms have arrived to fill the landscape with color. Whether it’s a single dandelion smiling upward along the front porch or an entire field of them reaching for the sun, they seem happy flowers.

Plus, when they’re done blooming, those sunny disks transform into wonderful, orbicular seed puffs. I don’t care how old you are, blowing into those puffs to watch them disperse seems irresistible. Unless, I suppose, you’re one of the people at war with dandelions.

For a few summers during my Colorado tenure, I worked mowing lawns for a friend’s company. Mostly, we took care of vacation homes – giant houses used for only a few weeks of the year and kept pristine for all the other weeks. There was one house, on “The Bench” overlooking town, whose owners rarely (if ever) visited during summer. But they insisted every dandelion hiding in their lawn be plucked or poisoned.

I couldn’t understand the painstaking search-and-destroy missions we conducted every week. The people were never there to SEE the dandelions. And the thing about dandelions in lawns is that when you mow the grass, the flowers get lopped off, and everything is just green; you wouldn’t know the dandelions were even there unless you really looked.

Of course, I don’t welcome dandelions in the garden and pull them up using the special dandelion-digging tool that reaches deep into the ground to – hopefully – extract the entire root, lest it re-sprout. But I leave the rest of them alone.

I don’t eat the dandelions – root, leaf, or flower – like some folks do. Nor do I use them medicinally or ferment the blossoms into wine. I just like how they look – bright, happy, undeterred by the mixed feelings they instill in humans.

Especially this year, when spring has been slow to settle in, and sunshine frustratingly fleeting, I’m glad to see the dandelions and their golden happiness spreading through the greening fields. If I close my eyes and turn my face toward the spring sunshine, I can picture my children, when they were very small, handing me bouquets of what some would disdainfully call weeds.

Those were some of the sweetest flowers I’ve ever received.  

Original content by Meghan McCarthy McPhaul, posted to her blog, Writings From a Full Life. This essay also appears as Meghan's Close to Home column in the May 24, 2019 issue of the Littleton Record.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

A New Bike

The white bike with the big wheels is my 10-year-old’s new favorite thing. After taking a spin on it the other day, I can understand why. This is a real bike, a big step up from the little mountain bike she’s left behind in the garage, and a million pedal strokes from the training wheels she outgrew years ago.

Little bike, little girl - not long ago
I still remember a couple of my own new bikes from when I was a kid. The first I got when I was around the age my daughter is now. It was a pink Huffy with a giant, puffy seat. I rode it around the driveway, downtown to meet my friend Liz, and through the neighborhood to deliver the afternoon edition along my paper route.

In high school I got my first mountain bike – a Bridgestone MB-6, sleek and dark red with weirdly knobby tires. This bike went with me to college in upstate New York, where I first dabbled in riding singletrack, discovered the joy of careening around corners and flying down hills through the trees, of coming home mud-spattered and tired and happy.

I carted that bike across the country to Colorado when I moved, and it soon became a “townie” fitted with chrome fenders, curved handlebars, and baskets for carrying groceries and whatever else I needed to haul around town. When I moved back East, I had to leave the Bridgestone behind. I hope someone, somewhere is still riding it.

Surely I had other bikes in between the Huffy and the Bridgestone (I have a vague recollection of a 10-speed somewhere in there), but these are the two I remember.

I’m guessing the new (to her) white Cannondale picked up at the bike swap last weekend is going to be one of those bikes for my daughter, that she’ll love this bike even after the shine wears off.

It was all she could talk about on the long drive home from her second soccer game of the day Saturday. My husband and older two children had gone early to the swap and picked it out of the lineup that morning, when Katy and I were on our way to the first soccer game. She couldn’t wait to see it and take it for a spin.

No matter that she’d run who-knows-how-many-miles in two hours of soccer, she popped out of the car as soon as we stopped, took a happy look at the bike, and – after a few quick adjustments – hopped on to do laps up and down the driveway and around the house.

Watching my youngest ride a bike that is bigger than mine, I couldn’t help remembering a few short years ago when I helped a smaller, similarly pony-tailed version of the same girl take her first wobbly driveway laps sans training wheels. Now I’ll be lucky to keep up.

Keeping up is, in large part, the main goal when you’re the littlest. We started taking family bike rides when the kids were little, my husband and I spinning along while the kids figured out how to balance and brake, lean into turns and shift gears, climb hills steadily and descend with confidence. The littlest kid has always had the littlest bike, and she’s always had to pedal that much harder to stay within reach of her brother and sister.

Now the littlest kid has the biggest wheels. She’s already spent hours on her new bike, riding up and down local roads, around the corner to see grandparents, and all over the yard. She’s figured out the gears and tested the brakes and learned how to make smooth, tight turns.

She can’t wait to ride her new bike to school. I’m looking forward to more family biking adventures on the trail – even if I’m now the one with the littlest bike. 

Original content by Meghan McCarthy McPhaul, posted to her blog, Writings From a Full Life. This essay also appears as Meghan's Close to Home column in the May 10, 2019 issue of the Littleton Record.