Endings, Or What You Learn That Can’t Be Measured. 

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. 

Advertisements

The Already and Not Yet of New Years

DSCN1674

“Do you have any resolutions for the new year?”
The text from my friend came onto my screen.
I responded with ever so slight sarcasm, giving an incredibly ridiculous list of near-impossible items (like making my kids eat vegetables and keeping my house clean)
She responded, “I said resolutions, not hopes and dreams.”
I laughed.

The reality is that it was January 1. A new year, a fresh start, a brand new beginning. A breath of fresh air, everyone resolutely typing away, sharing their own dreams with the world, giving advice for making goals, giving fool-proof tips for keeping resolutions, and even offering the elasticity of grace as a solution for the resolutions that we do not manage to keep.

My morning started with two little wiggly bodies in bed next to (and on top of) me, until they could stay still-ish and quiet no longer. The three of us left the poor father to sleep longer and slogged our way toward the kitchen, otherwise known as the Paradise of the French Press. One fell by the wayside and headed for the toys and television. One lay on the hallway floor screaming because she wasn’t Koala-baby-attached to her Koala mother. (When I say screaming, think human sacrifice equivalency.)

We managed to land on the sofa, with Curious George, a bottle, and coffee to leisurely lull us into the new resolution of being awake in this new year. Breakfast was requested. The request was deferred until coffee had been further consumed. Within a short time, graham crackers had been smuggled into the living room. The capable four year old even thoughtfully brought some for her sister, in a plastic bowl. Lovely. It was not until I went to refill my coffee that I found a few feet of graham cracker crumbs strewn across the granite counters, with the disheveled box and wrapper mangled nearby.

The next few hours went on to hold the simulation of a lake in the kitchen, mysterious trails and craters of water in the living room, messes of various forms, each one suspiciously appearing at the end of clean up from the previous, as if they had were coordinated attacks. The crowning bit of fun happened when one child needed a bath from a diaper situation. I may have inadvertently subjected her to a polar bear challenge in the bathtub with some cool water. She seized her chance for revenge by wetting my bed in the pre-diaper-attachment-phase.

My friend’s text came after this flurry of activity had occurred. There was a part of the day that felt incredibly ordinary, just full of normal messes, cleaning, frustration, and laughter, rather than a brand new start to life with no mistakes in it. Even though the calendar page flipped and the numbers shift, life continues on through toddlerhood and preschool-hood, and work and marriage, and living, day after day after day.

There is something enchanting about the idea of New Years. It is a chance to start fresh. We can determine to begin again, putting away failures and chasing perfection. But all of our determining and smart planning can end in frustration, unless we really understand why the idea of a new year is so intriguing.

A new year is a tantalizing reminder that someday all will be made new. We are a weary world, in sin and error, pining for redemption’s reality. We know that a new and glorious light has broken, but we live, waiting for the complete and whole realization of that shining light. We live in darkness and we who know God have seen a great light, already, but we have yet to see the full glory of that light.

Resolutions fascinate us because we long for the chance of redemption. But in our resolution making, we are often (not always) trying to save ourselves, to perfect ourselves. I have no problem with resolution making and determining to work toward a goal is extremely healthy, mentally and physically. But, our resolutions need the reality that redemption and perfection are God’s work, not ours. Our work is to make His redemption our anchor and to trust His perfecting to be good.

I love the turn of the year, the change of the seasons, the chance to regroup and jump into goals and press toward dreams with powerful determination. I love knowing that one day, all will actually and truly be made new. Our God will wipe every tear away, just like we wipe away tears from our children’s faces. Perfection will not be an illusion any longer. Redemption will be realized completely. That brilliant promise is what we cling to, as each day passes and each season pushes forward into our lives.

Uncharted Monotony

DSCN3654

Four years ago last week, we brought a little five pound, five week old baby home to live with us.  I remember being terrified the entire first 24 hours she was home. My husband and I took turns sitting up with her overnight that first night.  I think we stayed up partially because she was restless and fussy, but partially because we were afraid to fall asleep. It seems funny now, it wasn’t like she was going to raid the refrigerator or draw on the wall or use scissors unsupervised (all activities she has since indulged in).  But there was this incredibly fragile human in our house now and all the territory was uncharted and a bit scary.

Last week, I handed this same little girl a five dollar bill, a handwritten note requesting a loaf of bread, gave her instructions to wait in line and be polite, and sent her into a bakery by herself.  At first, she wondered out loud who would open the door for her.  I reminded her she usually opens the door for me.  Then, she placated herself with the idea that some Good Samaritan would smile upon her and kindly open the door.  And with that happy thought, off she ran.  She returned a few minutes later with a loaf of bread tucked under her arm, change in her pocket, and a humungous smile on her face. The note returned with her, carrying  a message back that she had been very polite.

Everyone tells me that time goes so fast. I don’t need their reminders, but I don’t mind them either.  Days and weeks and years repeat over and over. These are probably some of the happiest days of my life, I tell myself.  It is sad to me that these happy days are so short, but I am grateful for their presence at all.  Some days the overwhelming feeling that I carried that first night, an undercurrent of excitement and anxiety about the future, making me catch my breath, comes back.  I watch as the days back away off of the calendar. I watch as the children grow taller, older, and more independent. I wonder what they will be like when they are grown. But then I stop myself before that thought is fully formed.  I want each day to be here, now, not the future.  Never before have I wanted to future to stall more than now.  Nor do I wish to dream about the future I am not promised.  It is easy to dream as a child.  It is with greater caution that an adult dreams.

Each month and year repeats. Each one sends us deeper  into uncharted territory as parents, as our children grow, as children of God. We live the same months over and over again each year, marking off the same holidays, rituals, and every days.  But each day is unique and different. As a Creator and Father, God has made each story and path and day new.  We exist in His image, but individually created for unique purposes.  I love how Chesterton puts it in Orthodoxy. “But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. ”   Days repeat themselves. The Cross remains the same. The Heavenly Father never changes. But, His creativity and that of His world is boundless, His grace is unending, every day.

My children grow, as children have since time began.  It is how a life lives.  Each life is different.  Each stage is unknown.  Each path is uncertain.  But what is certain is the promise that God’s mercies are new each morning.  That He renews His mercies daily.  While our salvation is fixed and firm, it is worked out continually.  I love this tension that occurs, most visibly paralleled, when one loves a child.  They are born at a fixed point in time.  The love we have for them continues on and renews over and over.

Time goes fast and we “do it again” every day.  The uncharted roads and paths are the chances for God to prove His faithful care to us.  He gives us new stages that burrow into the repeated months.  And just like the days when we send our children into unfamiliar territory and watch over them carefully and with pride, so He does the same for us.

The days bring new challenges and twists.  But there is a constant Father who delights in watching His children grow and thrive, who sits up at night to make sure their needs are met.  That is a fixed joy that does not change.