How did it happen that there are only 10 days of school left? My daughter Leah is going into middle school next year and doesn’t seem at all fazed about fifth grade coming to an end. She’s very stoked about her summer which does sound pretty exciting. First she’s going to Chicago for two weeks with me and Kendall, then to France for two weeks with her mom, then to an overnight camp for FOUR weeks that she found on the Internet and where she knows no one, then a week at a camp at Sea World where she will be living INSIDE the park (I think that is the coolest thing I’ve ever heard of). God love her, she specifically wanted to do things where she’d meet new people, have new experiences, and challenge herself. Oy, is there still time for a DNA test, where did she get those genes? I was so terrified of summer camp as a kid that I practically had to be forced to go to the local Jewish day camp a few days a week. My only memory of those summers is the pool at the Bernard Horwich JCC that was chlorinated to the point of chemical asphyxiation and the squished peanut butter and jelly sandwiches I used to carry around in my back pocket. Will Leah avoid the memory blocks I now suffer from since she is clearly not locked in a fear-based childhood? I so admire her initiative to seek out enriching experiences and her endless ability to make new friends.
Leah has always eagerly accepted the changes that are part of growing up. So why do I mourn the END of everything? I just checked my blog from a year ago this week and sure enough I was writing about this very issue, my sadness at fourth grade coming to an end. It was even more insane last year because I wasn’t that hot on her teacher or what they were doing that year so you’d think I’d be happy that it was almost over. But no, I had to grieve the loss of that particular grouping of kids, that stage in Leah’s life. I love Leah’s current teacher and everything about her fifth grade experience but I still need to accept the inevitable and necessary transitions. If Leah were reading this, she’d say, “Dad, I’m the one who’s ending fifth grade, not you…GET A LIFE!”
But I was always this way. I remember going through exactly the same feelings during each of my 12 years as a student in the Chicago public schools, regardless of the fact that the older I got, the more contempt I had for the quality of the education I received in that system. I remember one thing I did every year on the last day of high school—I’ve never admitted this to anyone since it’s pretty dumb. I would spend every minute of those final days playing the theme music to “Room 222” in my head (remember that ridiculous show starring Karen Valentine as the plucky high school teacher who looked as young as her students?) while creating a visual montage in my mind of all the highlights of that school year. I’d repeat this in every class I had throughout the day. Although my outer persona was pure cynicism and relief at being that much closer to graduation, inside I was always creating nostalgic reveries that were as sappy as badly written TV show finales. I guess that was one of my primary survival mechanisms for getting by in those days—to treat my life like I was a regular on a TV series.
We went to an outdoor jazz concert at Leah’s school the other night where Leah played the clarinet with the fifth grade band (playing an instrument is required in fifth grade and they’ve come a long way since the fall but let’s just say that Essa-Peka Salonen won’t be calling any time soon). Watching those kids perform I marveled at how much they’ve all grown during the course of the year. I wondered how many of them will be in Leah’s middle school classes and what these amazing, diverse kids will be doing in ten years. Why didn’t I make more of an effort to get to know some of their parents this year or get more involved in school events? The last class I participated in was the Hanukkah celebration where I organized a game of Hanukkah Jeopardy and passed out latkes. The only time I really felt bonded to the school community was earlier this spring after the horrible tragedy at the school that killed a teacher and injured a bunch of students.
That strikes a familiar chord with me since the only time I tend to reach out to new people in my life is during some crisis or tragedy. Why can’t I overcome my timidity or fear of rejection during the “normal” times? Ironically, blogging has provided one of the only antidotes to that—it’s been great meeting and getting to know a few people as a result of writing in here. If only more people blogged, maybe it wouldn’t be that hard for me to make new friends. God, do I sound pathetic or what?
How wonderful that Leah is excited about her future, not terrified that each day will bring an intolerable sense of loss and regret.
And now on to those final days of school—not my school, but her school. Change is good, change is good, change is good…