It’s the end of school year. That anticipation builds, the excitement hardly contained, the noise levels rise, and then, suddenly it is over. Everyone is gone and the ghosts of laughter and happy shrieks and frustrations are silent. There’s an odd sensation after school ends when everyone scatters. The emptiness and the noise that recently existed float against the walls, and trail out the doorways. The surging energy calms to an abrupt cessation.
The sudden ending always seem strange to me. I’ve been a student, a teacher, and now a parent of a student and the endings still have that same feeling, mixed with excitement so strong its hard to stand, relief and long breaths, and then the odd empty feel when the action halts. This is my first year as a kindergarten parent. The end of kindergarten was different than I expected, but I shouldn’t have been surprised by it.
We are prepared for the beginning of kindergarten, when our babies materialize into academic scholars, proficient in letter sounds and telling time; expert in the subjects of chick hatching and butterfly transformation. We work ahead to send them off to kindergarten. We’ve officially started them on this career that ends in thousands of dollars of debt and ownership of a black cap and gown in 16 or so years. We read all the articles to make sure they are ready for school. We’ve collected the tips on how to be the best kindergarten mom and how to stay strong when you wave goodbye on day one. We buy supplies, we get them excited, we make their lunch and write them the little note to put with the lunch. The first day comes, the tear gets brushed away, the pictures are proudly posted. Then we settle into our school year routines of drop offs and pick ups and lunches with notes.
Then kindergarten ends. And I had failed to fully prepare for the end and the sadness, for the sudden anticlimacticness that seemed oddly similar to the day after I graduated from college. I distinctly remember thinking “now what do I do with my life?” Of course the answers (um, find a job) were there for me, lurking, and obviously she will go to first grade, not find a job. But the similar feeling lingers -everything we’ve been pouring our life into and looking forward to has ended.
Kindergarten is pivotal. This is the time when small childhood ends. They walk into school alone. They have friends. They form bonds with people other than their parents – they have a teacher they will probably remember, at least vaguely.
The night she graduated from kindergarten, in a mixture of emotion and exhaustion, she cried herself to sleep. She was heartbroken that she wouldn’t see her friends and teacher anymore. I realized in the days leading up to the end of school that small children have it harder than older children or adults when endings come. In kindergarten it’s harder to control your sense of loss. Kindergarten graduates, unlike high school and college graduates lack the ability to pick up a phone or send a text any time they wish. They (hopefully) do not have social media to connect with their friends. They are left dependent on their parents’ level of intro or extroversion.
As she cried, I wanted to assure her that kindergarten is a drop in the bucket. I wanted to help her know that this is an easily surmountable sadness cured by a few good days at the beach. But instead, I told her about my own deep ache for the friends I’ve made and had to leave behind in various stages of my life. I told her about my wedding rehearsal dinner when I walked into a room with most of my dearest friends collected together and how I realized I would not see them after the following evening at my wedding. I realized I had chosen a new life that didn’t keep them in a ten minute radius. My heart crumpled as I entered the room. I fled the scene and sobbed in a bathroom for what seemed an eternity to my confused fiance. I told my sweet baby girl that we make amazing friends through our lives and then we say good bye to them too frequently, but that they become a part of who we are forever.
The part of kindergarten we can’t test and measure and quantify and see and understand is the truest and deepest part of us. Sure, we grow in academic and developmental understanding, but we grow as people. We separate from our families and build relationships and learn independence. We have the joy of innocently blissful friendships, quick and easy forgiveness, and happy goodwill to our neighbors. We suffer thru good byes and changes. We live a microcosm of life in one fast year and suddenly we are ready for the rest of our lives.
I haven’t seen many articles for parents about handling a sensitive child at the end of kindergarten. Most mothers I talk to tell me about their own tears at the end of kindergarten. But what about the child’s tears? What do we do to help them grapple with the quieted laughter and lack of “life purpose”?
We move into one day after another day as best we know how. We do well to remember our own pains and heartbreaks as well as our own joys and friendships. And we celebrate the tiny humans our children have become, knowing that there are many parts of growth that are unmeasurable. Learning to deal with the pendulum that swings between joy and pain is one of those unmeasurable growths. We won’t find a true grade of that sort on a report card, because that is a life long lesson that continues on year after year, making us deeper and stronger.