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.

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