It is the last night, the last night before the last day of elementary school, and we are having a meltdown.
It is a minor one, just a little bit of panic and anxiety rising from a body adjusting to so many changes, but it hits me in the place where I store the building tension of a busy life that requires a moment or two alone.
And so I don’t validate the fear and I don’t recognize the cloud of changes hanging over this child’s head and send him to bed without leading him through.
I hear him angrily climb the ladder of the bunk bed he’s grown out of and flick his lamp on as he defies my order not to read because it’s 10:30 at night, and you need to just GO TO SLEEP.
And I cry. I sit on the couch alone and I cry because this is not how I want to see him step out of boyhood and enter the tunnels of adolescence.
And also, I cry because I so badly want to have one night where his bags are packed and his clothes are ready and we can wake up on the last day of school and smile easily as we say our goodbye ritual one last time.
See you later, alligator…in a while, crocodile…
Ask questions! I will…
I love you…love you!
And I cry because the ritual itself is so stuck in place that if I deviate from the script, he will come back in for one more hug and I’ll know it’s because the words were said out of order, and it’s exhausting and terrifying to know all of this and feel completely powerless again and again and again.
And there he stands, in front of my wet eyes, looking sorrowful, scared, and so little, holding the pants he doesn’t want to wear.
Can I just show you?
And he pulls them on and points to his feet and I sigh as I gently fold the bottom up.
I told you I could cuff them.
Oh. I didn’t know what that meant.
And we are hugging and I find myself saying the wrong things again because I am still in my feelings and he is hurt and so I fix that and put myself aside and we go to sleep close to midnight on this last night before the last day of sixth grade.
He wakes up before me.
He is dressed and ready and doesn’t have an appetite. I make an omelet and fold it into a bun. He tells me, now because he doesn’t have the capacity to plan ahead when he is constantly worried about everything happening around him, he is allowed to bring popcorn today, and do I have time?
And I am adding kernels to the pot as I wrap his sandwich and send him to brush his teeth. His molar falls into the sink and we smile and talk about the braces he can get now and the popping stops and I fill the bag and the bag melts because I didn’t wait so I grab a bowl and let it cool and he is twisting his hands and I am staying calm and I put a napkin into another bag and pour the popcorn over it and close it almost all the way and it’s in his bag and he’s ready to go and I say wait — a picture.
So he stands at the door and he poses and we say our goodbye and he is off.
And I am here, 7:55 am on the last day of elementary school I am crying my eyes out because this was so hard.
Not just today.
Not just last night.
Every morning. Every night. Every day for the last six years has been so damn hard.
Dear parents on the last day of school. Dear parents of children who need more than a drop-off and a pick-up and a couple of reminders in between. Dear parents of children the system wasn’t built for.
I just want you to know, as I insist to myself, that you are wonderful.
You’ve made it here. Barely holding on and maybe lost in the pain of remembering this year and the years before, but still here. And I know showing up for your child in all the different ways you do is hard and lonely and there will never be a Facebook group that can provide the support you need when every member is struggling but still – you are here.
I’ll go into the new set of problems summer brings as seventh grade looms ahead and I will take it one day at a time and maybe things will change and maybe they won’t.
For now, I wipe my tears, make my coffee, take a deep breath, and face the future.