A Million Meals

Caring for children in today's confusing food environment

A Season of Wistfulness: The Bittersweet End of the School Year

Reassessing the meaning of spring from a parental perspective

Like so many aspects of parenting, which turns all you thought you knew upside down, living by the academic calendar again has forced me to revise my concept of seasons. It's that time of year when summer may still seem tantalizingly far off, but those of us with kids in school suddenly feel the pendulum beginning its alarming acceleration towards The Long Vacation. In my fifth year as a school parent, I've wised up enough to know that just because the blossoms are not yet out on our Brooklyn trees, it doesn't mean the remainder of the school year will travel at the same measured pace it has thus far. No: before we know it, the precious few weeks left in the "regular" year will have run out. It's a feeling that once induced pure panic--twelve weeks to occupy my children (TWELVE WEEKS?!)--but now is more bittersweet. While there's an undeniable sweetness to seeing our children move on and grow up--first grade! third grade!--my bitterness no longer originates in the dread of 24/7 maternal oversight, but in the changes that accompany the end of each school year. Spring, traditionally the season of rebirth, represents something quite different in the academic year--the calendar we live by for far more of our lives than I ever realized. Fall is the season of reinvention for students around the world, while spring brings both a sense of progress made and of people and stages forever lost.

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It used to amuse me that my children experience worries about school only at the tail end of each year--once, the two of them simultaneously began experiencing separation anxiety for the first time...in May. Yet I'm starting to understand how they feel. As June approaches, there's a sense of loose ends being tied up, a finality that stands in marked contrast to the rest of their school days. While older children (and teachers!) anticipate the imminent freedom of summer, for younger kids and parents it can be completely unmooring. There's also a precarious feeling of teetering above the unknown--when everyone tells you that next year you'll be in third grade, and you have only the vaguest idea what third grade could be like, the end of the year can be foreboding rather than liberating.

What's particularly unmoored me the last few springs is the steady attrition of families from our school. I used to brag about the unusually close and vibrant community of parents we had, and I've come to treasure the friendships I and my children have made there. Various theories have been brunted about as to why that might be especially true for this group of families--many stay-at-home parents, a high percentage of first-born or only children--but whatever the reason, I felt we were part of an unusually solid, like-minded community of families. Yet in the five years since my eldest began nursery, at age three, there's been an inexorable series of departures, and in too many cases it's been of parents and families to whom I was especially close. Half of the families who began with us in Nursery and Pre-K have left my eldest child's grade. The reasons are varied--jobs move, finances change, priorities shift for so many valid reasons--yet sometimes it feels like we're on a sinking ship. Why are so many families leaving? Whom will I talk with about school if parents with whom I see eye-to-eye are gone? Is this attrition a reflection of our school, the economy, our neighborhood? Or is it simply the fluid nature of a lower school?

Of course, there's a (bitter) upside to this exodus, which has already been kindly pointed out to me: the fewer parents I speak with about school, the less likely I am to get riled up about the things I feel it could do differently and better. But that still feels like a loss to me; what I want--what I've always wanted--is to make our school the best possible place it can be, and not only for my own children. If the other parents who want to see changes happen towards that goal depart, then I don't think I will feel more satisfied--I will just feel alone.

Now, I admit (with reluctance) this isn't all about me--many of my children's best friends are gone or leaving, and inevitably those are the families to whom we've grown closest. And while I can still keep up ties with the parents, it will be harder for our children to stay close to each other once their school worlds diverge. So the loss, in some ways, will be greater for them; yet next fall, when this will become a reality, may as well be a lifetime away for a five- or seven-year-old--they have no idea what the loss of their friends will really feel like. I've been through it before; I already know how hard it can be.

 

So as the blossoms finally emerge after this exceedingly long winter, I try to reassure myself: maybe (likely) we'll all be fine. New families will arrive, old friendships will flourish under altered circumstances, school will continue to be both enriching and frustrating, like all schools are. But I now know why my children have an instinctive sense of anxiety as spring gets underway: change is in the air, and there's no way of knowing how it's all going to shake out until autumn, which feels--and truly is--so very far away.

To all the families and friends who've made our collective school experience a wonderful one so far: I wish you all the best on your new and continuing adventures, wherever they may take you.

What I've cooked since my last post:*

  • Risi e Bisi (my older daughter likes this too)
  • Handmade (childmade!) Orrechiette with Pancetta and Broccoli
  • Greek Giant Beans (Gigantes)
  • Red Rice with Wheatberries and Porcini Mushrooms (Gouurmet Today)
  • Boiled Rice with Mozzarella and Parmesan (The Essentials of Italian Cooking)
  • That Chocolate Cake (The Essence of Chocolate)--that's the cake's real name, and yes, it is The One
  • Chiles Rellenos with Arroz Verde (World Vegetarian)

*not including the many meals of fish fingers, hotdogs and pasta I've served my children!  And that's true every week, for the record.

Zanthe Taylor, M.F.A., is a former dramaturg and English teacher who is currently raising two daughters in Brooklyn, NY.

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