My youngest son is in third grade this year. It’s his last year at the primary school – next year he moves on to the upper elementary school, which is connected to the middle school. Well, technically, all the schools are connected, you can walk directly from one end of the building to the other. But the primary school has it’s own cafeteria, gym, library and office staff and the upper elementary and middle school share those facilities.
I often find myself lamenting the fact that his early childhood education is almost over. I love our primary school – the building, the teachers, the principal, the environment. As you may recall, we only made the switch to public school last year, and so our tenure at our primary school was brief. Too brief for my liking.
Furthermore, his third grade year has been nothing less than magical. His teacher is amazing. She is the very definition of child-centered learning and her teaching philosophy aligns closely with mine. I will definitely miss her ability to make learning so much fun.
I’m not at all worried about him moving on to the next school.
On the contrary, since I’ve been subbing I’ve gotten to know the fourth and fifth grade teachers and the building quite well, and I know he is going to have a fantastic experience. He is definitely ready to “move-up”. He is an excellent student and is ready for the increased academic rigor he will face next year. On a social level, he has been active in sports since he was three and often plays “up” with older boys. He has lots of friends both on grade level and in higher grades and I know he is going to thrive!
But there’s just something about leaving the primary school behind that’s got me super emotional. I suppose it’s just another one of those milestones that is passing by too quickly. And since Kyle is my last child, as he leaves childhood behind, so do I.
And that, my friends, is a frightening realization. There – I said it. So many of us moms, I think, are afraid to admit how scared we are of our children growing up. And I don’t mean for them. Sure, the world is a frightening place – the latest tragedy this week underscores just how dangerous it is. It’s just a fact that the older our children get the less we are able to keep them safe. The pressures of school, friends, and the world seem to multiply and can weigh heavily on young shoulders.
But hopefully, if I’ve done my job well, my children will make good choices and be prepared emotionally, psychology and physically for what the world will throw at them. I have to hope with all my heart that they will never be forced to look down the barrel of a gun in school, or anywhere else for that matter.
But while I readily acknowledge there are no guarantees for their safety, it’s actually me that I am really worried about. For the last fifteen years my identity has been, primarily, a mom. I have given up just about everything to raise my kids the way I want to. My career, my friends, my social life, my network, my interests . . . .
And I am not complaining. Each sacrifice was willingly undertaken. I wouldn’t change one thing. But I honestly have no idea what I am going to do with myself once they longer need me. I will have no job, no responsibilities, no purpose. As a classic Type A, over-achieving, hard-working personality, that absolutely terrifies me.
So, I find myself clinging to each moment. Carving out time for one-on-ones. Changing my schedule to be here when they get home from school. Making sure to attend each and every game, contest and performance that I can. Celebrating the ordinary, enjoying the countless car rides, trying hard to connect with their friends – just really appreciating the little things.
And yet, this week, when we faced with one of Kyle’s first “lasts” we opted to skip it. Say what?!?
I’m not talking about anything truly momentous – just his last homemade Valentine box. You know those construction paper covered shoeboxes designed to collect Valentines and a collection of cheap junk from classmates. At least that’s what Valentine boxes were when we were children. Today they are often elaborately designed and constructed feats of engineering using multiple boxes, canisters, cardboard, glitter, puffy paint, streamers, dowels, nails and more.
Valentine boxes have been an annual tradition in my home for the last 13 years. We’ve made baseball diamonds, basketball hoops, winter wonderlands, castles, Minions, Minnie and Mickey Mouse, superheroes and their accessories, Legos, butterflies, Olaf, and more. (If I were a better blogger I’d have dug out pictures of all those boxes to post – but since I am embracing the slacker mentality today you’ll just have to imagine our handiwork).
For the most part I looked forward to this event every year. We’d start planning our designs in January. In early February I’d make sure that I had boxes of the requisite size and begin gathering craft supplies. Most of our creations were pretty simple – I often relied on spray paint or duct tape to color the box and let the kids use their imaginations to add decorations. They were rarely Pinterest-worthy, but they were child-made and for that reason they were fabulous. It was [almost] always a fun, creative family project that brought me lots of smiles.
The last couple of years have been a little bit more stressful, in part because we are always out of town the first weekend of February. So, depending on when Valentine’s Day falls, we were often pressed for time making our boxes. But we always managed to make it work.
Until this year . . . .
Between dance and tennis and band and piano and basketball games and tournaments and teaching Pilates and substitute teaching every day for the last three weeks we have truly not had much free time. I honestly didn’t even think about making a box until Sunday – a day when we had three basketball games scheduled. I asked Kyle if he planned to make a box this year – blessedly our teachers take this task upon themselves and give all the students time to create Valentine bags in the classroom, and while the kiddos are free to bring in homemade boxes if they want to, no child is expected or required to do so. He said he didn’t have to, because they had already made bags.
Whew! I immediately felt a sense of relief that we wouldn’t have to throw something together in the next two already jam-packed days.
But then I felt a little bit guilty. Maybe even more than a little bit. I had, in the past, always helped my other children make their boxes. It was quality family time, filled with laughter and pride for a project well done. We had never before relied on the school-made bag to collect Valentine’s. Was I shortchanging my youngest son?
So, on Monday night I asked him again if he wanted to make a box and he was unequivocally ambivalent. “I don’t really care, mom. We don’t have to.”
My daughter was aghast! “You’re not making a box!” she squealed. “Do you want me to do it for you? I can make you a box.” Apparently, she really misses the Valentine box tradition.
He just shrugged his shoulders.
As it turns out she had even less time than he did, so no box was made.
I found myself both relieved and sad that Kyle opted out of the box-making this year. In fact, with some trepidation I asked him one final time on Tuesday night, “Are you sure you don’t want to make a box?” I even pointed out, “This is your last real Valentine party. Your last opportunity to make a special box.”
Ever practical, he said to me, “Mom we’ve made lots of boxes and if you really want to do it again we can make them for home anytime.”
That made me smile. I can just picture our family room decked out with a family of Valentine boxes.
But his comment also made me realize that he had absoltely zero regrets about not making a Valentine box this year – even if it would have been his last one. In the scheme of his already busy life, the time it would take to create a Valentine box was simply not worth it, especially when said box would be useful for exactly one afternoon. In fact, I would venture to say that he was glad that all the fuss over Valentine boxes would soon be over.
The only person in our house, other than my daughter, with any emotional attachment to Valentine boxes was me. And it wasn’t even because I really wanted to make a box. In fact, in today’s high-stake Pinterest-inspired box-making environment, I actually dreaded it. I just felt sad about one more childhood milestone passing us by, and not even taking the time to commemorate it.
But, then I decided to just let it go. If my son didn’t care about the stupid box, then why should I?
Rather than launching a messy craft project, we opted to play a game – just him and me. And guess what – it was just as much fun.
Of course, we still celebrated Valentine’s Day. I eve spent the extra time prepping a special Valentine morning celebration and frosting our annual cherry cake.
Kyle also had a lovely party at school and came home with the same number of cheap trinkets and cartoon Valentine cards that he would have if he had made a box. It was all safely collected in his school made bag.
And now that our final Valentine’s Day party is in the books, I can honestly say I feel a-okay.
So I guess what I am really trying to say in this marathon post, which I hadn’t even planned to write today, is that sometimes it’s okay to be a slacker. It’s okay to follow your kids’ lead and not do “all the things” all the time. It’s even okay to let some traditions die.
In fact, not only is it okay – it’s necessary, in order to keep your calm, your sanity, the joy in the holidays – both big and small, and to be the best parent you can be.