Years ago, when I was working at Trinity, I learned huge lessons about the importance of closure from a resident assistant who was working with me at the time. Katie was especially gifted at nurturing relationships and in her professional and private life, she always made sure to make both beginnings and endings in special ways. While I had known, in my head, how crucial it is to find ways to offer closure at appropriate times, Katie taught me how that LOOKED as she lived it out before me. This has had an impact on my life as a parent that I did not expect.
Our children attend a nearby Christian school and they adore the time they spend there. Every year, they learn so much and show such enthusiasm for these new bits of knowledge. The teachers are passionate about their work and exceedingly loving in how they treat their students. The school overall does a phenomenal job of building community and connecting students K-8 in ways that brings out the best in each child. It is exactly the educational experience I had envisioned for my children and I am so grateful that they are able to attend this school. But, the end of the year is always bittersweet. While they eagerly anticipate the free and relaxing days of summer, knowing that they will walk out of their classrooms and away from their beloved teachers for the last time brings on a sadness that is saved specifically for year-end. Yes, less time with friends is a part of this equation but it is the loss of a year well-spent that makes my children sad.
So, seeing this trend from the beginning of their school years, we have established traditions that help to take the edge off the end. Year after year, we conclude our year with carefully chosen activities that offer to them (and to me) Katie's closure.
Weeks before the school year ends, we begin to talk about making the most of our final days. We talk about ending well, working and playing hard. We try to be extra aware of academic issues, spending more time studying for tests and completing projects. In our house, the end of the year is so full, so busy, that it would be easy to let all of this slide. Paying extra attention helps a lot as the final grades are recorded and the days wind down.
The night before the school year ends, I sit with each of my kids and we talk about what they are thankful for in school. We recall the amazing experiences they shared with classmates and the special gifts that each of their teachers offered to them. And then, with all this fresh in their heads, we write thank you letters. I encourage them to do this on their own. The words and memories are theirs and, for us, it has proven to be an important experience to take a minute to not only be grateful but to express that gratitude to someone with whom they have shared this year. (And...this is top secret... after my sweet babies have all gone to bed, Mark scans these precious words into our computer leaving us with a legacy of thankfulness that is heartwarming to review.)
On the last day of school, my children choose an outfit that feels right to them. The process is much like choosing what to wear on the first day of school. For some, it feels right to dress up a bit... for others it makes more sense to choose what is comfortable and comforting to them. Then, after we pray together and they leave on the bus, I begin a lot of behind-the-scenes running and errands to help that day be all that it needs to be.
First, I run to buy flowers. It is our tradition to give each teacher a bouquet of flowers or a hanging basket as part of our thank you to them. Sometimes, we have also prepared baked goods to give them as well. (This year we packed chocolate chip macadamia nut cookies we made the day before.) It is my goal to be at school, flowers in tow, by 10:00 for the first recess of the day. With the thank you notes from the children, the baked goods and the flowers, I go from classroom to classroom giving these to the boys to give to their teachers. While I am there, I take a picture of each child with their teacher and then leave them to finish their day.
Once this is done, I run to McDonald's to buy lunch for the kids. I pack these into the van and then head back to school. Though my children ride the bus, it has been important to them to see me outside when they come out on the very last day. So there I stand, hugging my sad boys, as they say good-bye to what will always be an important time in their young lives. And then, they get on the bus for one last ride. With teachers waving from the sidewalk and parking lot and many young arms waving from bus windows, it all comes to an end. The tears do not belong to the children alone. These amazing teachers who have loved their students so well are often misty, too. It is a bittersweet moment for all... reluctantly turning from the blessing of the school year to face full on summer coming.
Now perhaps you find yourself wondering about my being at school while the bus runs my babies on home... I annually find myself wondering about this, as well! Hoping for a time-warp, I hurry to my van to beat the bus to our house. (Believe it or not, this usually works!) I then wait in my driveway til they all come home and as they step off the bus, Elizabeth and cheerfully yell "Happy summer!!". Dumping all our stuff in the house, we quickly load into the van to head off to the ultimate distraction from all things sad, a trip to the park to have lunch with friends from school!
By now, the McDonald's bought much earlier has grown a little cold but in the last 8 years, I have yet to have one complaint. Arriving at the park, the kids run off to sit at picnic tables with those to whom they have just said good-bye. Eating quickly, they then run and scream and laugh and play at a park we reserve just for this. The moms sit together and dream of days with later starts and worry a bit about filling endless days with meaningful experiences.
After a couple of hours, everyone exhausted, we pack it up to head home to relax. The intensity of emotion has waned by then and the kids are drained but content. Traditions behind us, summer begins. And it is full and it is good and we are ready.
Keep reading... the word we ban and some of our plans are coming up next...
Blessings on your day!