The End of the Innocence
Tuesday, May 30, 2006
My baby's cry, sharp and angry, interrupted my sleep a couple of months ago. It was the eve of spring and although it wasn't yet 6 a.m. the sky was lightening in anticipation of the longer days. I sat up fast in bed as her cries escalated and she wailed on hard and loud letting me know this would not pass and sleep was over. The rest of the family was sleeping and I knew it would be hard to keep her quiet so I gave her a bottle, grabbed my sweatpants and tennis shoes and put her in the stroller bundled in a warm blanket.
I walked past blocks of neatly landscaped homes, up and down the rolling hills and onto the flat sidewalk that leads the way to the neighborhood elementary school. I stopped in front of the school, watched the sun break through the clouds above the houses on the hills and swallowed hard as a sense of loss washed over me. I was overcome by memories of my daughter's first day at this school, her six years of classes and 10 years of life in this neighborhood that's provided safety, comfort and friendship with many families we've known since shortly after her birth.
I thought about how every day brought us closer to the end of this time in our lives, when this school was the magnet that drew my circle of friends together as we navigated the experience of our first children starting kindergarten. Now, in less than a month, we will watch them walk across a stage to accept a certificate officially recognizing they are no longer in elementary school and ending a chapter in our lives where we all cut our teeth (kids and parents alike) on the social dynamics of school.
Six years ago when our children started kindergarten there was a shared belief, an expectation even, that we would all stay together through high school. We had a sweet, naive idea that our children would remain the best of friends and thus we would too. Our network was so tight it was almost impossible to imagine a time when we wouldn't be together to buoy each other up through the challenges of parenthood. And at the time we didn't envision the individuals our children would become, the choices they would make about their personal interests and the friends they value, completely distinct from our influence.
But, time passed, they grew and changed and so did our expectations for their future. Now we are weeks from the end of this time of innocence when we shared so much. Many of us have made choices we didn't anticipate when we thought our child's ability to read a sentence or do simple addition was a groundbreaking achievement (and, as any parent knows, it was, at the time). But now, we know more about who our children are and who they might become, both academically and socially. So, we are separating in the fall, some choosing private and parochial schools, charter and magnet schools. Some are leaving the neighborhood, some even leaving the city in pursuit of the right fit for their children and their families.
When I paused in front of the school on my early morning walk I didn't know as much as I know now about all of my friend's choices. But I did know we were approaching the end of an era. With any change comes loss. I was realizing even change that we actively pursue can leave an ache in your heart.
When I've mentioned to friends how different it will be for all of us in the fall, they've reminded me that we'll still see each other at sports and social events. But I know it won't be the same. I am excited for the opportunities and friendships my family will make at our new school but I will miss the cocoon our first school, friends and neighborhood provided because they represented something precious. In the big city, we found a community reminiscent of my small town upbringing where the school was the hub and you never went out without seeing a friend. We floated along together in a sea of soccer and softball games, swimming lessons and talent shows, summer camps and slumber parties, beach bonfires and barbecues. As a working mother, I truly felt part of a village and that brought great comfort. There was always a friend to pick my daughter up after school, drop her off at soccer or give her a ride to the field trip when I couldn't. Even as our children's friendships evolved -- some strengthening, some dissolving -- our years of trust created a foundation for communication, understanding and finding common goals, even if each of us approached parenting in our own unique way.
It is transitions like this one that remind me how quickly the time goes and how fleeting are the eras of our lives. Our children no longer see the world from the same pair of rose colored glasses. They are in pursuit of unique dreams and opportunities and as parents we are coaching from the sidelines, as they maneuver beyond childhood and become young adults. We will have to remember that although we aren't together anymore, when we coaches need advice, a helping hand or some moral support we still have our years of friendship behind us to start the conversation, and we are all only a phone call away.
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