Life

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Why The End Of This School Year Feels So Important

I want to take her to the library, to get an ice cream cone, and to play in our town’s fountain all on the same day — because there’s no reason anymore not to.

In the driveway, I told my 6-year-old Alice I had the perfect song for us to play on the last drive to first grade. Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out” blasted from the minivan, and it was every bit as Hallmark-movie-moment as you think, including when my kid said, “That was... kind of embarrassing” as we cruised through the school parking lot.

It was kind of embarrassing. Almost as embarrassing as the excitement I felt when she asked me before she hopped out of the car, her mask resting on her chin, her new adult tooth still only halfway filling the space it needed to, if we could make a cake to celebrate. “Chocolate cake with chocolate icing. But in white icing it says, ‘Happy last day of 1st grade,’” she said. I nodded, smiled big.

“Yes of course! Have a good day! We love you so much!” I shouted as she walked in. I waved, teary-eyed, to the same four teachers that have been helping kids hop out of cars since last August, when they all wore gloves and giant plastic shields and double masks. When they weren’t allowed to hug or hold hands, when they were elbow-bumping and shouting, “SIX FEET APART” at each other.

Now most of them are vaccinated. I watched them pull kids close and tight for a hug, watched them dance and blow bubbles as kids headed into the building, ready to officially end the weirdest year of school ever.

Every end-of-year celebration feels like a big deal. But this one really feels special.

It feels like hope, like an accomplishment, like a balm. It’s over, and also, there is more.

I want to make sure we have a campout in the living room, that I introduce Alice to The Parent Trap (both versions, obviously), that we have a picnic by our neighborhood pool and eat watermelon and peaches so juicy they dribble down to our elbows.

I wrote a summer bucket list down on a random piece of notebook paper. I’m usually overwhelmed by specially-curated lists of festive fun that people frame and mark off and create Instagram highlights for, but for the first time in a long time, I was so excited about summer than I wanted to make a plan. Not in a Type A kind of way (of which I have no part of), but in a Mary Oliver, going-to-soak-it-all-up way. I want to make sure we have a campout in the living room, that I introduce Alice to The Parent Trap (both versions, obviously), that we have a picnic by our neighborhood pool and eat watermelon and peaches so juicy they dribble down to our elbows. I want to take her to the library, to get an ice cream cone, and to play in our town’s fountain all on the same day — because there’s no reason anymore not to.

Because summer is no longer just an extension of a hazy March that has extended long past its welcome. Because this end-of-the-year was a celebration. A celebration of first grade, a celebration of a school year in a pandemic, a celebration of tiny slices of normalcy coming together, peppered with Zoom meetings and stress.

And on the horizon of summer, after nights of chasing fireflies and ice cream for dinner and going to bed with dirty feet and sunscreen still streaked on their faces, there is a new school year. Where all the teachers can be vaccinated. Where big kids are vaccinated. Where there is lunch in the cafeteria again and in-person parent-teacher conferences and going shopping for school supplies in Target without a temperature check.

This school year’s end brings both the promise of summer and the promise of a better school year. And I think I’ll write that on the next chocolate cake.