Friday, June 13, 2014

Beyond Preschool

There was a time, not all that long ago, when I could claim I was the mother of three children under the age of 3. It was something of a badge of honor, a sort of twisted brag uttered in sheer exhaustion. Well, school ended this week, and I can no longer claim to be the mother of even one preschooler. I am now the mother of two 2nd graders and a kindergartener.

The end of each school year marks a new milestone in the march toward growing up. I can clearly see, at the dawning of summer vacation, how my children have grown – in stature, knowledge, and ability – since the start of the school year. The conclusion of this year marks a particularly big change for our family, as we say so long to a place that has nurtured my children through their earliest classroom experiences.

Each school day for the past four and a half years, I have driven down a bumpy back road along the Gale River to deliver a child – or two, and for a short time all three together – to preschool. In the time my family has been at this school, the faces of the children and the parents and even some of the teachers have changed, the fields of the farm on which the school sits have been brought back to a life of growing food, and my kids have skipped and played and grown in this sacred little center of learning.

In four and a half years as a preschool mom, I have changed, too. In the beginning, I was the nervous, first-time-at-preschool parent, walking through the door with a 3-year-old grasping each hand. All the other kids, older than my son and daughter then, seemed to know the routine. All the other parents seemed unbothered by leaving their children here, in the small, bright classroom with the kid-sized chairs and tables, and going about their lives for the day, while I was a mess of nerves and emotion.

Soon, of course, we all learned the routine of preschool. And in what has become one of the things I most cherish about this place, we were welcomed into the family, a family that changes every year as the 5-year-olds move on to kindergarten, the younger children grow into the role of “big kid on (preschool) campus,” and new students arrive with their own nervous parents in tow.

Children seem to take these transitions – finishing another year of school, reaching the next birthday, learning some new skill – in stride. For parents, though, the waning of one phase of childhood into the waxing of the next can be a bit emotional. Each milestone our children reach marks the beginning of something new and, hopefully, good – but also the ending of something else. My littlest one was a baby when her siblings started preschool, and it is not easy for me to let go of this phase of my family’s growing up, even as I want nothing more than for my children to continue to learn and grow and be happy in their next steps.

This week, I made that journey to preschool for the last time as a parent of a preschooler. I’m sure we’ll come back for an occasional visit. But come fall, my daughter will head to the “big school” with her older brother and sister, who remember their preschool years fondly, but have moved on to other teachers, other friends, a bigger playground, school lunch, reading and adding and learning more all the time about the world around us.

It is strange knowing that I will not travel this road every morning and afternoon next year, not walk up those five wooden steps and through the door to greet the teachers and discover the fun morning activities of the day. This has been a happy place for each of my children, and I will forever be grateful that they started school here, with these teachers, these families, in this place.

On the first day of kindergarten at the end of summer, I will once again send my baby into a world that is unfamiliar, new, sometimes a little scary (sixth graders are considerably bigger than kindergarteners, and they share the hallways). Once again, she will navigate some of this new world on her own, but she’ll also have her big brother and sister to show her the ropes – at least during recess and school-wide activities – just as she did when she started preschool.

Someday, I’m guessing long before I’m ready for it, I’ll be able to claim I am the mother of three teenagers. But that’s too far down the road of life to think of now. Kids grow up too darn fast, as every parent knows, and it’s officially summer vacation. I’m heading out to play with my three grade schoolers. Summer, after all, is as fleeting as childhood.

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 13, 2014 edition of the Littleton Record.

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