On your first day of elementary school, the teacher had to hold you as I walked away. You were screaming and crying and yelling, “Mama!” like I might never return. In your arms, you held your beloved stuffed animal, Horsey Horse. “Mama always comes back, Austin,” I said to you.
You were so little – just four years old – since you started as a pre-K student. It made sense that you cried. But I hated that you never seemed to get used to school that year, and always would rather be with me. Even in Kindergarten, when you’d walk into the school with your teacher, you turned to watch me and wave at me until the last moment when you had to enter the building. That year, at least, you learned to leave Horsey Horse at home.
Finally, in first grade, you could walk into school confidently. I breathed a bit easier then, thinking that your life would be smoother as the years went by.
Of course, I was wrong. Just a few weeks into that school year, your dad Shawn fell ill, and you were largely taken care of by kind neighbors and friends. That fall, on the last day your dad dropped you off at school, I took photos. I seemed to understand it might be the last time. A month later, he was gone.
Thank God you had a great teacher, one who had taught Claire and would teach Tommy. Thank God we had a great community, and thank God that Grandpa Tom stayed. But it was a lot for a first grader and it was a lot the next year, when you were in second grade.
That easy life I’d imagined for you in elementary school? It didn’t seem so easy in those early years of single parenting.
But as you got into third grade, I again thought that things were going to be okay. You were thriving – learning math and playing baseball and enjoying the time you got with your friends. You were thriving in our family with your siblings and me and your Grandpa Tom. Life was easier.
Until it wasn’t. The beginning of the pandemic was scary, and it meant that Grandpa Tom had to go home. It meant I had to help teach you at home and it meant that we didn’t have the same supports we’d always had.
And yet, we managed through it, didn’t we? Your dad Chris arrived in our lives, although you didn’t call him dad back then. Most of fourth grade school was done online, and somehow, you did it. I watched you learn more than fractions and how to write a paragraph that year. I also watched you learn how to let someone new in your life. I watched you grow to love your dad Chris.
Somehow, out of all the years, it was fifth grade that finally felt easier. And yet, there was a lot that happened this year, too. Our wedding in Maine. You getting Covid. Your dad adopting you and your siblings. The musical. Baseball playoffs.
They say the elementary school years are the “easy years” of parenting – the ones in between the difficult toddler years and difficult teen years. And in many ways, that is true. But for you, Austin, there was so much you had to face, so much we had to face as a family. So much change.
You are graduating from elementary school today. And like all of the other fifth graders, you are so different than you were when you entered this building for the first time.
But I am not worried about your future. I know you will get through whatever the world sends your way, because you always have. Yes, elementary school – and much of childhood – was about so many changes for you.
And yet, even as I recount all the change and all the hardship, I also remember all the times you ran up to me at the end of school and jumped into my arms and told me about the best parts of your day.
These years? They were happy years for you, too.