There are some elementary school moments I always want to remember. There are others I can’t wait to forget.
I still remember my oldest stepdaughter’s final year of elementary school. Everything she did that year was treated in our family as a Major Milestone, requiring all of us to drop what we were doing and Be There for every single event, cameras at the ready. There was her last music performance. Her last Fun Run. Her last Halloween party. Her last Christmas party. Her last Valentine’s Day party. Her last field trip. Her last Spring Celebration. Her last Field Day. I was there for all of it, struggling to hold back tears as I softly hummed Sunrise, Sunset to myself and took a million and one pictures of her every blessed move.
At the grand finale — her fourth grade graduation ceremony — I, along with most of the other fourth grade moms, was a complete mess, sniveling in the pews of the big church across the street from her elementary school as each child marched across the stage. From all the wailing and gnashing of teeth in the audience that day, you’d think these kids were headed on a one-way flight to Antarctica rather than five minutes down the road to the local middle school.
Fast forward 12 years to our fourth and final child’s elementary school graduation. Same school. Same church. Same mylar balloons and banners decorating the stage. Same tears in my eyes as I watch my child cross the platform and receive his graduation certificate — The only difference this time is that the tears I brush from my cheeks are freaking tears of joy.
“I’m free,” I mutter to myself incredulously as the final fourth grader shakes the hand of the principal. “I can’t believe I’m finally free.” It’s all I can do not to bolt from my seat, throw my program in the air and race up the center aisle and out the door, whooping for all I’m worth.
Hey, elementary school? It’s been real. Like, really real. But between our four kids, I’ve spent more than a decade wandering your sticky halls for themed lunches and book fairs, Read-A-Thons and Spelling Bees, Spirit Days and Art Nights, fundraisers and festivals. I know where all your staff bathrooms are and I know how to use your lamination machine. I’m on a first name basis with your teachers, your cafeteria monitors, your secretaries, your crossing guards, and your bus drivers. I know waaaay too many of your secrets and scandals (Why do people insist on telling me these things? WHY?!), so it probably comes as something of a relief that it’s finally time for me to move on — but not before I say a proper goodbye.
Goodbye, Cafetorium. I will not miss trying to squeeze my adult-sized ass into those torture machines you pass off as tables and chairs. Your unique smell has left an indelible imprint on my soul, and the bellowing from one particular lunchlady who terrorized all four of my children will haunt my dreams for decades to come. And while sometimes the food was actually good, sometimes it was…. not. I emerge from our relationship bruised, slightly nauseated, and able to tear open a tube of Gogurt with my teeth.
Goodbye Pajama/Sport Jersey/Backwards/Hawaiian Luau/Twin/Wacky/Western/Book Character Day. I’ve gotta be honest — Coming up with so many costumes was a whole lotta not fun for me, and the fact that some moms consistently went all out with elaborate hairstyles, stage makeup, and hand-sewn ensembles while my kids had to make do with whatever we had lying around didn’t exactly make me Mom of the Year. Plus, I’m pretty sure my daughter is still scarred from the time in second grade when I was out of town and my husband took her to school dressed as Strawberry Shortcake, complete with hot pink wig, only to get a phone call from the teacher a few minutes later. “Um, Book Character Day is TOMORROW,” she told him. D’OH.
Goodbye, recorders. Your satanic screechings nearly brought me to my breaking point and I did not emerge from that experience unscathed. I can still hum the tune, note for note, that my stepdaughter played 1,795,698 times in a row the week she brought her recorder home from school when she was eight years old. She’s 25 now. This is not okay.
Goodbye, Room Moms and Box Top Moms, Lunchroom Moms and PTA Moms, Field Trip Moms and Fundraiser Moms. Some of you were awesome and made my kids’ school way better. Some of you have become lifelong friends as a result of the time we spent together. But some of you seriously need to get a life. Yes, Room Mom who unfriended me on Facebook after I bought my own Christmas present for the teacher rather than contributing to your Classroom Arbonne Basket. I’m looking at you.
Don’t get me wrong — I’m all for volunteering — but if your entire social life revolves around your kid’s elementary school, it may be time to reassess your life choices is all I’m sayin’.
Goodbye, clay sculptures. I will not miss trying to guess what you were without making my kids cry. Also, I’m pretty sure you mate and have clay babies at night when no one’s looking, because the number of lumpy clay sculptures in my house has definitely increased without any reasonable explanation.
Goodbye, one teacher system. I can’t tell you how wonderful it feels to be done with the agony of waiting to find out which teacher my kids would be assigned to each year. Spending all day, every day with a good teacher meant my kids came home each day happy and self-assured, while an ill-tempered one made their confidence and attitudes plummet for ten straight months. It gets soooo much easier when they reach junior high and one teacher can no longer make or break them.
Goodbye, Field Day. I hated you when I was a kid and I hate you now, and I really don’t understand why you’re still around. I mean, why can’t elementary schools have an annual Origami Day? Or a Song and Dance Day? And why does Field Day always have to be held on the hottest day of the school year? Has no one ever considered SNOW AND ICE GAMES? Whatever, Field Day. I’m so done with you.
Goodbye, annual ‘Music Program.’ I have to put that in quotes because of the sneaky decision at my kids’ school to start every music program with a PTA meeting, forcing a Cafetoriumful of exhausted parents to balance on American Girl doll-sized chairs so that the PTA president could flaunt her new capris from Kohl’s and call her squad up to the mic one by one for giggly reports on Lord-knows-what. By the time the kids took the stage, most of the grandparents had fallen asleep and half the parents had gone outside to make business calls.
So much for that stirring rendition of ‘I Taught My Turkey How to Tango.’
Goodbye, projects and homework. One of the biggest surprises I got as an elementary school parent was the amount of school work I had to do. Because let’s face it — A kindergartner isn’t capable of making a model of the solar system without a significant amount of help. A first grader doesn’t have the hot glue clearance or small motor skills necessary to recreate the Titanic with sugar cubes. A second grader is going to need hours of help with that diorama of ancient Rome. As for homework? I quickly started calling it Parent Work. Because I had to sit with my kids while they did it and keep them focused and answer their questions pretty much every single school day. NOT FUN. I believe teachers know all of this, and have their own word for it. I believe that word is ‘revenge.’
Look, I don’t want you to think I’m a complete curmudgeon — I’m not. I am, after all, the one who wrote this piece of weepy schmaltz. A part of me will definitely miss elementary school and the wonderful teachers and staff who made it an almost entirely fantastic experience for all four of my kids. We’re lucky to live near an amazing public elementary school and I’ve convinced more than a few people to send their kids there.
But yeah. After 15 years of elementary school, I’d say enough is most definitely enough. How about you?