What I did on my summer vacation

By Kris Ferrazzza | Sep 13, 2019

Well, we’re back to school, and while it was a lovely summer, as soon as there is a chill in the air, I feel the urge to don my backpack and head on down to the schoolhouse.

My daughter has entered grade 8, and while she seems to have made the transition effortlessly, it’s a bit awkward for me. Next year I know she will move on to high school, while I suspect I will be retained by my principal, and will stay behind in my K-8 school.

If anyone asks me what I did on my summer vacation, I don’t know where to begin. Frankly, they would have to see it to believe it.

I crossed a Herculean task off my to-do list. In my mind, I wasn’t sure I’d ever be able to finish it. I would visualize myself starting this project, then fast-forward to a white-haired senior version of me as a 70-year-old grandma still toiling away at it. But guess what? I put my mind to it, and it is done. I have fully documented my daughter’s first 10 years of school.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. Clearly I need to have my head examined. And you may be right. But I was determined to gather all of her important papers, cutest photos and handwriting samples, plus funny stories, and hand them over to her on a silver platter. And now I can.

These are the things parents of only children can do. My mother couldn’t even finish my baby book, let alone do four more for my brothers and sisters.

But Elizabeth is my one and only, so time is on my side. I was there for all of it, sitting in the front row with the other proud parents, taking photos and home movies, and saving concert programs.

I knew tackling this scrapbook would be a big job and a deep dive into the past. To be honest, it was like watching my life flash before my eyes.

Over my summer vacation I set aside a day or two each month to work on a “School Days” scrapbook. The plan was to dedicate about five pages per year of school. In theory, that would have meant a 60-page scrapbook when she graduated from high school. Seems reasonable, no?

No. First, I realized she started with two years of preschool. Then I noticed we actually go to school 13 years from K-12, not 12. So it eventually would be 15 years of school times five pages per year. OK, so maybe it would be 75 pages, I reasoned. I’ll just make it two scrapbooks.

Then I started digging. I had bags and boxes of report cards, school pictures, Valentines, handprint turkeys and love notes. There were essays, poems and drawings, awards, certificates, tickets, play programs and more.

It was like an archeological dig as I pored through the ephemera, starting with recent history and going back in time all the way to kindergarten and beyond. I watched my daughter’s handwriting and school photos age in reverse, as her tidy cursive regressed to print and then a scrawl.

My time machine took me back to when she was learning to write her A, B, Cs on lined paper, telling time, tying her shoes, adding and subtracting. Her chic middle school bob haircut turned back into a long ponytail, then two long braids, and then curly pigtails worn high on her head.

Whoa.

As I sorted, I was striving for accuracy. I started to date undated photos based on the color of her glasses and which pets were in the pictures. Lunchboxes, backpacks and winter coats were other giveaways. Like a detective, I searched for clues so I could maintain the timeline.

At a few points in the process my teenage daughter walked into the kitchen, witnessed the carnage around me, and asked, “Are you having fun doing this, or do you feel like you have to do it?” I assured her I was enjoying myself, despite the fact my back ached from digging through the boxes, my neck hurt from looking down at photographs and I was on an emotional roller coaster.

“But what are we going to do with all of this when you’re done?” she continued.

“These are for you,” I said, knowing she didn’t want these scrapbooks and it was all about me. “And if you don’t want them, someday when you’re rich and famous I’ll donate them to the Smithsonian.”

There are photos of her wearing a gingerbread costume in pre-K and a glittery construction paper mortarboard at kindergarten graduation. Cheerleading in first grade. She got a patent for the “back ice pack” she dreamed up for the second grade “invention convention.” Elizabeth brought down the house as Hermia in “A Mid-Summer Night’s Dream” in third grade, and inexplicably changed the spelling of her nickname from Lizzie to Lizzy in grade 4.

In fifth grade she landed a solo as Jasmine in the school concert, and then played pushy newshound Jenna Tipster in her sixth-grade play. The photographs, programs and funny stories I’d jotted down brought it all flooding back.

Last year she went to middle school and experienced homecoming events, junior high dances, another play and the wonders of having her own iPhone.

Needless to say, by the time I had documented two years of preschool and eight years of public school, two bulging scrapbooks held a whopping 220 pages of memories.

I have no idea what this year will bring, but I already have my “First day of school” photo. It will start a third scrapbook. There were times when I toiled over the books, snipping photos and taping corners instead of making dinner. As my family ate cereal or leftovers, I asked myself, “Why am I doing this?”

I can come to only one conclusion. It’s the same reason some people hike the Appalachian Trail or climb Mt. Everest. Others choose to swim with sharks or zipline in Costa Rica. Perhaps it is my destiny. Or maybe I just did it because it was there.

And the beat goes on.

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