Yesterday, my daughter, Lily, finished 5th grade. She completed elementary school and will enter middle school in the fall.
As you can imagine, it was an emotional day.
Lily has attended the same elementary school since Kindergarten. The school is a block and a half away from our house. In 1st grade, Lily was placed in the Spectrum program, which is the program for academically gifted students, and that same group of kids has basically been in the same class together each year since then. We’ve watched them all grow up and gotten to know them and their parents as we volunteered for numerous events and programs and field trips and all those elementary-school activities that make it such a special little village of its own.
On the last day of school each year, there’s an awards ceremony followed by a slide show. The year Lily was in Kindergarten, it really was a slide show, with an actual slide projector and slides (remember those?). I was one of the parent photographers and I still have the images of those tiny, adorable kindergartners in my head as I framed them in my camera. Then, the following year, the slide show turned digital and became more of a computerized affair with a lively musical soundtrack and more of an MTV feel. It got a little out of control some years, with the music too loud and an emphasis on special effects rather than on the kids. Yesterday’s slide show, though, was amazing.
The man who put the show together has been in charge of it for the past few years, but yesterday’s was the best. He tracked down individual images of each 5th grader from all of the past digital shows and then showed a progression for each kid. We got to see each one go from 1st grade to 5th grade, from little munchkins with big cheeks, squinty grins and missing teeth, to pre-adolescents with long, lean faces, serious looks, and a hint of the adults they will become.
Each year during this show I am struck by these children’s innocence, their potential, and their deep and boundless beauty. Yesterday, though, was unbelievable. The photos were excellent and the children radiated so much love and happiness. You would have had to possess a heart like a walnut to not be moved. A dried up, old, rotten walnut. I was feeling kind of misty and a little emotional at first, but when the 1st through 5th grade progression photos of one of Lily’s best friends appeared, I realized I was going to have to pull out the tissues I had brought. Then, when the photos of Lily showed up, I was gone. It was like someone pushed me really hard from behind, like a football body block that knocked all the air out of me. It was hard to cry because I couldn’t breathe. That series of photos did me in — not only because Lily is a beautiful child and it was amazing to see her progress in age like that, but also because the fact that this phase of her life is ending became real for me at that moment.
I’m not ready.
I want Lily to stay this age forever. Most selfish statement ever? Probably. But, it’s true. I love her ten-year-old view of the world and will miss it terribly. I’ll also miss her little community of friends and teachers and other staff members at her elementary school.
The other time I really, really lost it yesterday was when we were saying good bye to Lily’s P.E. teacher. He has been her P.E. teacher for the past six years and I know without a doubt that he has made a lifelong impression on her to stay fit and active. What an absolutely generous gift, especially considering her parents are not always the best models of that message. He was so kind to Lily, complimenting her on her effort and encouraging her to stay active. He gently reminded her of the time back at the beginning of 2nd grade when he and Lily’s classroom teacher had to physically pry her off of my body while she screamed and cried, “No Mommy, don’t go, don’t leave!” in front of the school’s main office. How do you say good bye to someone who went through that with you?
I think Lily was pleased with how her final day of elementary school went. She was surrounded by loving people of all ages who weren’t afraid to express it. She looked fabulous in her carefully chosen outfit, including a beaded necklace that her little neighborhood friend Tizita made for her. We took lots of photos and they’re all just terrific. It was a great day. It was an emotional day. It was a day I will never forget.