Friday, January 27, 2012

Elementary school's end will just be the beginning

From today's Briefing:

The school year is half over — or, as I prefer to think about it, half full. I’m relying on an optimistic attitude to get through my son’s final weeks of fifth grade without too much weeping.
Cooper’s last day of elementary school may be in June, but getting there is an emotional journey.
I’ve already met with his future middle school counselor to discuss classroom accommodations related to dyslexia. (Despite fears fueled by young adult novels, comic strips and years of television programming, she was not cold or detached or clueless.)
Next week we’ll spend an hour in the middle school cafeteria so Cooper can try out band and orchestra instruments in an effort to determine his musical future.
Soon after, he’ll stand before a couple hundred people to accept his Arrow of Light, which symbolizes completion of achievements in the Cub Scout program. Then he’ll walk across a small bridge to be accepted into the Boy Scout troop of his choice.
A month later, the entire fifth-grade class will hear facts about puberty. The highly anticipated gender-specific talk is scheduled for the hour before the bell rings for spring break, giving the kids no time to compare notes in class and guaranteeing all kinds of fodder for family discussion while we’re allegedly relaxing.
A few weeks after that, he’ll play his final soccer game with the team that’s been together since 2005, when the boys were baby-faced, wiggly, completely adorable preschoolers.
All this builds to what promises to be the most tear-filled event of the whole process: the last day of school, when fifth-graders attend their own special assembly and then parade throughout school, giving high-fives to younger children lining the halls, all while music plays over the intercom, possibly designed to drown the sobs of sentimental moms like me.
(Some of my mom friends refuse to step foot on campus that last day of school, shielding themselves from the emotional experience until their own children are graduating fifth-graders. I show up every year, sort of hoping for some kind of inoculation.)
If all I focused on were these goodbyes and rites of passage, I would be a big ol’ blubbery mess until June. No matter how often I told myself to stop and enjoy the moment, to not wish for the next phase but to enjoy the current phase, Cooper’s elementary school career has zipped by entirely too fast.
So, while I’m misty-eyed about everything that’s ending, I’m working on embracing all that’s about to begin.
In August, Cooper will launch a new school career, with a different classroom and teacher every hour and a locker with a combination lock and the freedom to sit at any table in the cafeteria. He’ll study our world and read novels and solve problems with greater intensity.
He’ll report to the band hall to learn how to play a new instrument. Maybe it’s the first step that leads to marching band in high school and college, like his dad. Or maybe he’ll try it for a year and decide to try a different brand of art.
Like every other sixth-grader, he’ll struggle with and eventually conquer pre-adolescence, part of a necessary journey that will lead to the young man he’s designed to be.
He can choose to try a new soccer team or a new sport altogether. He could spend more time on long-distance running and triathlons or take a few tennis lessons or find a basketball team. Or maybe he’ll take a break from sports, spending more time camping and completing achievements as part of Boy Scouts.
For every milestone we know about and can ink on the calendar, there are many more that aren’t scripted, that we can’t anticipate. Some of those moments will make me cry, too, but I expect the majority will make me smile.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at


Laura and Brian said...

I love this! With Case following close on his heels next year, I'll remember to re-read this when his big transition approaches. :)

jenina said...

My daugther is also a 5th grader this year, so I completely identify with everything you have written here!

I honestly feel like I was just in 6th grade! How can my baby be starting 6th grade in just a few months?

Thanks for reminding me to cherish every moment and look forward to what the future holds!

~Conia said...

You have a heads-up that I did not have. I showed up for the last day of 5th grade ready to party it up. Midway through the first song of the assembly, I was run over by a mack-truck loaded with raw emotion! I was the blubbering idiot for quite some time.

I have no idea how I will handle this when #3 ends fifth grade!