Last Thursday were Grace and Whit’s school closing ceremonies. As he leaves 1st grade, Whit leaves the Morse Building, the part of the school for the very youngest children. It’s where both of our children started at this school, at age 4, as Beginners. The Morse Building will always be the first place I dropped my first baby off for her first day of school, and its halls, lined with large bright drawings and full of the clamor of small children, will always bring nostalgic tears to my eyes.
I sat in Whit’s closing ceremony, my husband on one side of me and one of my very dearest friends on the other, fighting tears as small voices songs from Free to Be You and Me and the theme from Greatest American Hero. It was just moments ago that Whit was cross-legged on the mats on the floor while Grace sat on the stage, a member of the 1st grade, the “big kids” of the Morse Building. Again, as it does so often lately, time collapsed and the radiance and sorrow of everyday life collided, sparks flying. I fought to be here now as the past exerted itself like a riptide, dragging me down the disorienting corridors of memory.
Then the Morse Building children sang their traditional last song, Now It’s Time to Go, and I began to cry in earnest. This year has not been any more full of lasts than any other, but my last child leaving this deeply special place has made them feel especially poignant. The last Morse Building holiday concert, with a child curled on my lap on the floor as we all belt Snow Pants and I Am a Latke. The last 1st grade assembly. The last harvest festival. I remembered Grace’s observation that she gets the firsts and Whit gets the lasts. I swam in a morass of lasts, of endings, of farewells.
Once more, in that same small gym where so many transitions have been made and celebrated, the air was thick with both wonder and loss. Wonder and loss, which are inextricably wound around each other, are the central notes of my life.
Then Grace celebrated the end her school year with the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th grades. Grace’s music teacher, who was also my music teacher, rushed over to me before the ceremony began and showed me a mimeographed page of the 1982 class lists. My name appeared there, under IIS, with a star next to it to show I had been new that year. The past clanged in my head and I held the back of the metal folding chair to keep my balance as that dizzying, familiar vertigo rose up: between past and present, between my daughter and myself, that this moment somehow contains all the moments that have come before.
And then it was over and we left. We walked out through the Morse Building, through the doors I’ve pushed open with one hand so many hundreds of times, the other hand clasped by a small child. Through the lobby where I’ve sat for hours, waiting for classrooms to open in the morning and for lines of children to emerge in the afternoon. Past the nurse’s office where I’ve picked up children with strep, with stitches that have reopened, with mono, with sore collarbones. Into the sunshine, blinking, through the playground where we’ve spent countless hours playing. I can squint and see 4 year old Grace propelling herself around on the push tricycles, smiling at me across the yard while I sat on the faded wooden bench trying to restrain a wiggly toddler Whit from hurling himself into the fray. The memories blinked in my mind like fireflies; they were brilliantly bright but I couldn’t make them stay.
And the heavy green door clicked shut behind us. And we followed them out of the gate, which Whit is finally tall enough to open himself, and down the street. My children leading me home and simultaneously walking away.
Radiance and sorrow. Wonder and loss. This one precious, devastating life.
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