Goodbye, grade school

By Kris Ferrazza | May 18, 2018

My daughter is about to get promoted. I can’t help but feel it’s a setback.

She’s finishing the sixth grade, which means she’s leaving the elementary school she has attended for the last seven years. Located just two miles down the road, her school is part of the neighborhood and really feels like “our” school.

It didn’t always feel that way.

Just yesterday, it seems, I was walking Elizabeth in for kindergarten registration. I took her to the office window and the nice ladies there told me I needed to fill out some paperwork in a nearby room while my 5-year-old went for her screening.

This did not compute. I am not in the habit of handing my child over to strangers, so when a friendly person I didn’t know extended a hand to my daughter, I felt a rush of emotion. Elizabeth was excited for school, and didn’t seem to mind a bit. I, on the other hand, was faking a smile and wondering why I hadn’t decided to homeschool. Was it too late?

I remember walking the halls in a daze, thinking the building was cavernous and confusing. It was too big, and danger seemed to lurk around every corner. That night I told my husband I feared our kindergartner might get lost or tumble down a stairwell, unaware of her new surroundings.

He laughed and told me I was overreacting. He had been in the school and thought it was just fine. Typical.

“You just don’t want her to go,” he said. I knew he was right.

When the first day of school finally arrived, our collie dog took it even harder than we did. For years he had been hating the big, noisy yellow bus that rolled past our house four times a day. So imagine his surprise when his nemesis stopped at the end of the driveway and swallowed up his best friend. Shocked would be an understatement.

Angus ran all the way to the corner and spun in circles, barking wildly. Meanwhile, Lizzy was waving excitedly from the bus window. The dog didn’t know what to think.

That afternoon, he was waiting patiently in the driveway when the yellow monster spat Elizabeth back out and then roared up the road. It took a while for him to accept this daily routine, and he never was completely thrilled with the idea.

It seems impossible that seven years have flown by, and middle school is on the horizon. The days were long, but the years were short, as the saying goes. But there is no doubt grammar school gave us memories that will last a lifetime, especially kindergarten.

One night at dinner Elizabeth announced her gym teacher’s name was Phys Ed. We laughed and I explained the class is physical education, and there was no way his name was Phys Ed.

“His name,” she insisted angrily, through clenched teeth, “is Phys Ed!

Good times.

Another night she reported she and a friend had run into a bit of trouble during recess.

“These kids were calling us tattletales,” she said.

“So what did you do?” I asked.

“We told on them!” she said cheerfully.

Oh my.

School was an adjustment. Poor Elizabeth would raise her hand to speak at the dinner table at home, and then bashfully admit she sometimes called her friends and her teachers, “Mom.”

Every day was something new, and I started writing her observations down in a journal. One night she said, “There’s a kid in my school who has a beard. I think he’s in fourth grade.” Grade-school romance was another hot topic, and when a young couple split up, my daughter was visibly annoyed with the boy. “He’s just a little kid, but he keeps calling this girl ‘his ex,’” she snapped.

Homework sometimes was a chore for us all, but I had to laugh one night when my daughter announced, “If I didn’t have fingers, math would be harder,” then added, “And I would look creepy.”

Fortunately, Lizzy rarely got into trouble, but a few problems seemed to happen in the cafeteria. One night the phone rang and her kindergarten teacher reported Elizabeth had been disciplined at lunchtime. My husband and I both waited for the inevitable words “food fight.”

But no, apparently she and a friend had ripped up a napkin and dropped it on the floor. When they were told to clean it up, they did. We waited. But that was all. Just the napkin.

After a long pause, my husband said, “Well, I thank you for calling, and I certainly will give her a stern talking-to.” Then he shrugged at me, palms upturned, as if to say, “Is that good?” I shrugged back, not knowing what else to say. Luckily, that was the only call we ever got from a teacher regarding bad behavior.

A few years later, Lizzy was in the same lunchroom when a few boys began competing to gross out everyone at their table. My daughter has a weak stomach, so she tried not to watch this contest unfold. As the boys stuck food into various orifices, a girl laughed so hard milk came out of both her nose and mouth. She quickly moved to first place in the competition, but her hopes were dashed when Elizabeth suddenly lost her lunch. Yup, she threw up right there at the table, and accidentally won the whole shooting match.

There was a time when I never thought I’d be feeling nostalgic about my child's vomiting in the school cafeteria. Before I became a parent, I was perplexed by the strong emotions some people expressed about their kids' getting older. It struck me as funny, actually.

A coworker used to occasionally pull out some old school days artwork from his grown kids and get a faraway look in his eye. He would wistfully gaze into the distance while caressing the dog-eared drawings. Childless at the time, I would roll my eyes and laugh at his sentimentality.

Now that I am faced with the dreaded promotion ceremony, I am also reminded of a friend who has watched two of her three children graduate from my daughter’s school. She always was anxious about the celebration, and then would later admit she had wept during the gathering in the gymnasium.

Ever the supportive friend, I would mock her, chuckling and pointing out it was “only sixth grade.” Of course I was smug, my daughter was a lowly third-grader at the time and junior high school seemed light years away back then.

Now I get it.

So when the younger children start to sing, “Go, My Son,” at next month’s ceremony, I will be the one in the back, wearing dark glasses and sniffling into my scarf. It is the end of the era, but this little neighborhood school will always be ours.

Years ago, when I was dropping Elizabeth off at the front entrance, I asked, “What’s your poor mom going to do when you’re all grown up?”

She hesitated, then simply guessed, “I dunno, take me to high school?”

It’s going to be here before we know it.

And the beat goes on.

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