The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, September 25, 2009


The unheralded kind of benchmarks

We weren’t facing one of the big benchmark years as the first day of school rolled around. No one started kindergarten or middle school or high school. No one began a final year anywhere, either. With Holly going into second grade and Tim heading for fifth, it felt more like a continuation year to me than like anything big and new was beginning.

For the first time in many years, sending the two kids off to school was business as usual. I knew a full day would be no problem for anyone. There was no morning anxiety, no separation problems at the bus stop. I didn’t worry about anyone facing a room full of new faces or learning to navigate lunch in the cafeteria. This was a year when everyone in our household was already settled in and knew what was expected of them.

But maybe it was precisely because of the absence of big obvious benchmarks that I was more attuned to the small differences that marked their new year. Holly now enjoys the bus so much that she opts to take it even when I offer to drive her to school. Tim and all his classmates received planner books the first day of school, signifying that they are now expected to plan out their time and keep track of several different assignments, rather than just one.

Tim faced another unofficial milestone with fifth grade as well; it’s the first grade in which the kids are, as I like to say, released on their own recognizance. Whereas up through fourth grade they have to leave on the bus or with an adult at the end of the day, in fifth grade they can simply walk out the door when the last class ends. Tim has been riding his bike to school (thanks again, Footpath Committee!), so now he buys a snack at Ferns and spends a little time at the library doing homework before pedaling home. After years of carefully arranged pick-up times and bus schedules, I find it amusing to see him saunter through the door under his own steam.

For Holly, too, the benchmarks are subtle this year. Second grade is neither the first year of school, like kindergarten, or the first year of desks and full schooldays all week, like first grade. The kids are accustomed to the routine. But she’s found parts of it to be new as well – such as having so many younger kids around. “Mommy, we were playing at recess today and some kindergartners came up to ask what we were doing,” she told me after school last week. “They were so cute. And so tiny!” She clasped her hands and beamed. “So I said to them, ‘You’re so cute and tiny!’”

“And did they belt you?” my husband asked.

Fortunately, no. But with Holly, not all that much larger than a kindergartner herself – and in our eyes, not that far past being one – it’s a shift to have her remarking on how adorable the new additions to her school are.

For me, there were new things about this year too. Just before noon on the first day of school, I headed out for a run. As I passed along Church Street, I wondered why there were so many familiar cars parked by the school. A lot of my friends are regular school volunteers, but I couldn’t imagine that they had all been called upon to help out that very first day. Then I remembered the baby boom when Tim was in kindergarten. All those infants held in parents’ arms at the rainforest play and the authors’ tea during the spring of Tim’s kindergarten year were now starting school, and their parents were at the kindergarten walk-through.

Some years have big traditional milestones; others have smaller, more personal ones. The weekend after school started, Holly finally started riding a two-wheeler. And Tim, never especially known for helping out around the house, learned to operate the riding mower this weekend. Now he’s willing to mow the lawn on a regular basis.

Kids grow up fast. Hardly anyone with school-aged children would argue with that sentiment, though there were a lot of years of playgroup and story hour that I didn’t quite believe it. Now I know. Every year brings new developments, new abilities and new challenges. It’s one of the best things about parenting, and I look forward to seeing what else happens that’s new as this second-grade and fifth-grade year unfolds. ∆

© 2009 The Carlisle Mosquito