In August of 1998, nearly eleven years ago, my wife and I took Trey, our oldest child, to kindergarten. Since our home at the time was less than a mile from Harpeth Valley Elementary School (so yes, we became members of the Harpeth Valley PTA), we loaded Trey up in his little red wagon and, video camera in hand, took him to school. So began two traditions: the wagon, which lasted as long as we were in Nashville for Trey and then for Carolyn when she started kindergarten; and the video camera, which still comes out on the first day of school each year, much to my kids' chagrin.
We took Trey to Ms. Hatmaker's classroom and left him there. He was confident and happy. We were bewildered that time had flown so quickly that we could already have a child in school.
Over the next five years, we took Trey to each successive grade at Harpeth Valley, and, in 2001, we added Carolyn to the wagon ride as she headed for Ms. Jeffers' kindergarten class.
2003 brought us to Texas and to Florence Elementary School (too far from home for the wagon ride - not that I wasn't tempted!). Trey was by now a fifth grader and too old for elementary school (the time was still flying by), but Carolyn dutifully began second grade at Florence, and the next year Annessa became a kindergartener herself.
Today was the last day of fourth grade for Annessa. Next year, we will have one child in high school, one in middle school, and one in intermediate school. I am today amused that, way back at the age of 33, I was wondering where the time had gone just because my son was "already" in kindergarten.
Walking out of the elementary school today, with the knowledge that I am unlikely to walk back in for quite some time, was a milestone - probably a greater milestone than when I walked out of Walter Stokes Elementary School in 1977 (back then, "elementary school" lasted through the sixth grade). As a student, I knew that it would be summertime and then I would move on to junior high. As a parent, while I know that it is summertime and that many more years of school will follow for all of my kids, I somehow am much more cognizant of what has gone before:
- the truly great teachers like Kimber Halliburton and Joyce Blair and Jana Houk and Kristi Schultz and Tricia deJonge and Kelly Persyn;
- Mark Martin, a principal who goes above and beyond;
- projects and artwork and early stabs at authoring books;
- friends, friends, and more friends;
- disappointments and heartbreaks that are tragic to a 7-year-old and, a parent knows, only hint at what is to come in life;
- victories and achievements and awards that are almost passe' to a child but fill a parent's heart with the strangest of emotions.
I cannot go back to my thirties any more than any of my kids can go back to the second grade. I would not want to go back, and neither would they. Still, there is something about the end of elementary school that signals the end of something more.
Maybe it is the end of the truly innocent time for all my kids. Maybe it is the end of "young adulthood" for Gena and me. Maybe it is the end of the easy stuff.
Or maybe it is, as I was reminded in a sermon this past Sunday, not so much the end of anything as it is a launching point. Maybe we are simply finishing the first stage of preparation. Maybe today's meaning is that for all of my kids, to quote Dr. Seuss, their mountain is waiting. Maybe it is time for them to be on their way.
I know that in eight years, when my last child graduates from high school, I will revisit many of these same feelings. Perhaps then I will look back and think just how silly I was, at the tender age of 44, to think that the end of elementary school for Annessa really was a substantial milestone.
But it sure feels important today. It sure feels like we have moved over a significant line. Maybe it will be with my great-niece Aubree or maybe (perish the thought) with my own grandchildren before I next have a reason to cross the threshold of Florence or any other elementary school.
Today, after eleven years, I left elementary school. It sure was a nice ride.