My littlest one is graduating preschool tomorrow. Big day! He is the baby of our family but definitely not a baby anymore. He is monkey bar strong, too cheeky for my own good, kind and not so kind, teases his friends and begs for sleepovers, busy all the time with his Legos, water balloons, and “fairy dust” (ground up chalk that finds its way into everything). He is five-year-old little and five-year-old big all at once – squirms his small body into our bed most nights and can’t understand why he’s not allowed to stay home by himself like his brothers when he uses words like “hideous” and “actually”, eats teenage bowls of cereal all afternoon, shoots baskets better than they do.
He loves his preschool, the sandbox and slide, his teachers and friends – but he is bursting out of himself, like an uncontainable jack-in-the-box just waiting to spring into kindergarten with his arms up high: I’m here!
Yep. Big Graduation Day tomorrow. For him. And for me.
I’ve been dropping off at, picking up from, volunteering and shopping for, complaining about and loving this preschool for 11 years. In a row. No breaks. Sometimes I had one kid there, sometimes two. Sometimes as one was graduating, another was starting. It’s the only school all four of my children will attend from start to finish. And the divine Morah (Hebrew for teacher) K with the squeeziest hugs and most patient heart is probably the only teacher in their academic history that will teach them all. How lucky they are!
Since 2003, every week day, for ten months of every year, I have driven the route from my house to the preschool and back, at least twice a day if not more. I think that’s about 15,000 miles. We have no less than 12 homemade menorahs to choose from at Chanukah – who knew that bolts stuck on wood made the best Chanukah candle holders? – and almost the same number of Passover seder plates. I have devoured about 400 kid-made challahs (the yummiest challah in the world), and have helped raise thousands of dollars for the scholarship fund, facilitated the construction and dedication of a new classroom, and cooked countless meals for families and teachers with new babies and new homes.
I have watched my children’s two-year-old tears of separation and toddler anxiety transform into confidence, laughter, knowledge, friendship and pure delight in being at their home away from home. I have felt their teachers’ love, warmth and nurturing spirit – not only for each of mine, but also for me, my husband, even for Pretzel the dachshund.
Tomorrow we say goodbye to this haven of creativity and expression that has quietly brought constant calm to the chaos and confusion of daily life. For all of us. For 11 years.
I thought I would be sadder. I thought I would be sad. That it’s over. To say goodbye.
But I’m not.
I’m excited for my bursting jack-in-the-box to be in kindergarten in the fall, at the same school as his siblings. He can count, and form squiggly letters, and say the blessings on Shabbat. He knows about bridges and butterflies and how the world was created and he’s been in a fire truck. He knows how to share and have compassion and to empty the sand from his shoes before he comes into the house.
I’m not sad. My children – all four of them – are the still-growing people I am so proud of today because of that preschool. Those teachers. I am joyful.
And also nostalgic.
Longing – a little bit painfully – for those days when we would collect our three-year-olds and head to the park after school. An intense, necessary, sympathetic, close group of mamas, we would gather at the park with snacks and babies and picnic blankets and a gaggle of kids, and spend every afternoon chatting, gossiping, comforting, helping, friending. There was nowhere else to be but right where we were, with each other.
I miss that.
We are all still friends, but some have moved away, and all have moved on. Those three-year-olds are in middle school. The babies now have younger siblings. There are too many places we have to be after school, and it’s rare to run into each other anywhere.
That’s what I’m sad about.
I know life carries on, we move forward, sometimes slowly and reluctantly and sometimes with all the enthusiasm of an uncontainable jack-in-the-box. But as the sun sets on my years as a preschool mom, I am longing for those simple days of little kids, and bags of Pirates Booty (never thought I’d ever say that!), and long afternoons of more-than-friendship in the park.
Tomorrow he will walk through the rainbow, like all the graduates at our preschool do, and like his brothers and sister did before him. My eyes will well with tears of pride and joy – and a little bit of pain and longing.
Want to go to the park after school? I’ll bring snacks.