25 May 2011

Mourning the End of Second Grade

Most kids are delighted at the end of the school year, looking forward to a couple months of family vacations and relaxation. And my kids definitely are excited at the prospect of the lazy days of summer. And yet, tonight when I gave my daughter, Arden, one last good night kiss to her as a second grader, she began to sob. She didn’t want to be a third grader, she said, because that would mean leaving her beloved Mrs. Y behind.

Arden has grown so much this year, making giant leaps into chapter books, writing poetry and stories, challenging herself to catch up to her best friend in leveled math. She’s received accolades and awards, and truly has had a wonderful year. And I knew she was attached to her teacher. Heck, we all are.

Our older daughter was lucky enough to have this same wonderful teacher for second grade as well. And Madeleine suffered a bit in the transition to third grade too, missing Mrs. Y terribly at the start of that year, even wishing aloud that she’d been “held back” so she could have another year with this brilliant teacher. And I remember that years before, Madeleine had refused to hug her preschool teacher on the last day of school, because she thought that if she didn’t say goodbye, it wouldn’t end.

Mrs. Y is one of those rare teachers who is able to find a lesson in each and every moment, one who knows that the most important ones can’t be measured by a test. She’s been teaching for decades and still finds wonder everywhere. She is one who teaches with such finesse, such enthusiasm, and such artistry, that I believe that I could learn a lot from her. I wish I could spend more time in her classroom, just so that I could absorb some of her magic. And everything she does, she does with an abundance of love and contagious joy.

Still, I was surprised that Arden was so upset. She’s always ready for a new challenge, easily bored, and game for most adventures. I thought third grade would be right up her alley, especially since one of her favorite things to play is “high schoolers.” And yet here I was, consoling her while she wanted more time in second grade.

Many years ago, when one of my daughters received her first helium balloon, she played with it all evening before she went to bed. Of course, when she awoke, the helium had dissipated, and the balloon no longer floated, but bobbed along the floor: now just an ordinary balloon. She was upset, and couldn’t quite grasp why her special balloon was no longer special. And I tried to explain, gently, that what made the balloon special was that it didn’t last long. Its transitory nature, the fleeting time with that balloon, was what helped to define that moment as something out of the ordinary. Fireworks, birthdays, special vacations, and so many temporary moments are special precisely because they are ephemeral.

And while an entire year with Mrs. Y doesn’t really qualify as ephemeral, it is time to move on to new challenges and adventures. Tonight Arden and I talked about bittersweet feelings. How it’s ok to feel sad about leaving second grade while also being excited about summer and the new challenges she’ll face at school next year. About how it’s hard to say goodbye to what’s comfortable and routine. About how it’s a little scary not knowing whose class she’ll be in next year or whether her friends will be there with her. And we talked about how Arden can always love Mrs. Y, and how Mrs. Y will always love her, but that Mrs. Y knows, too, that it’s time for her to move on. And how she’ll still be able to hug Mrs. Y, even when she’s no longer in her class.

Saying goodbye with grace is one of life’s hardest lessons. Letting go and moving on are often some of the most difficult tasks we face in our adult life. If many adults don’t have the skill set to manage this, how will an almost-eight-year-old? And while I won’t encourage Arden to wallow in her sorrow, it’s ok for her to mourn the end of second grade as she figures out how to face her future adventures. I do know that when she steps off that big yellow bus tomorrow, I will be waiting, ready to greet my new third grader with a kiss and a hug.

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