My Youngest Child Starts Middle School Next Year. Where Does That Leave Me?

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This is the last year I have a child in elementary school.

And it’s weird.

Yes, I have an older kid who made his way to middle school over a year ago. I felt the sudden wave of adolescence splash the sting of tears into my eyes as he walked out of the building he spent his “little kid” years in for the very last time, but it felt right. It felt time. A few months later, seeing him practice unlocking his very first locker in his new school, learning the names of a different teacher for each class, was all good. These were things he had to do on his own, for he was a big kid in a big school and I am a practical person who can see this. I watched, supported, but stood back. As always with him, we went through these firsts together, but it wasn’t particularly emotional for either of us. We were learning the ropes, making sure we got it right. We both like to get things right.

Now my daughter is dancing through this last year of elementary school, and I can see her final walk out already. She was 3-years-old when she started in the Pre-K there, and will be 10 when she says her goodbye this month. A whole different person.

It’s hitting me hard, man. Like, right in the feels. HARD.

I have spent the past seven years at this school, getting to know the kids, the teachers, and the new principal. I’m not exactly a deliberately involved parent, yet I’m still involved because it’s how the school works. There, the drop-off and pick-up requires us parents to park our cars, walk to the blacktop. On days the weather allows, the kids toss their bags aside to climb on the playground, pick up a game of wall ball, shoot baskets, decorate the court with sidewalk chalk, throw a football around, have adventures among the tree line as the parents clump together to catch up with old friends and make new ones, talk about homework and milestones, and set up get-togethers for their kids with old friends and new. We keep an eye on each other’s kids (the proverbial village) in good moments and bad, and have access to their teachers at the end of each day at dismissal. There are so many snapshot moments from our lives with this school as a backdrop, I couldn’t possibly list them all. It hasn’t been just a school; it has been a community, a home. Even the kids I never formally met or the parents whose names I never learned are still friendly and are a part of my and my kids’ lives. And I know we’re leaving them soon.

Middle school is a whole different animal: I simply pull up to the curb, the kids I carpool there jump out, and I leave. The kids are in charge of, well, everything. I know this is great for their being able to manage their own lives and get prepared for the real world, but as I think about my youngest child soon jumping out of that car, too, where does that leave me?

As overwhelming as having young kids can be, you feel a part of it. You’re embedded in their everything from school days to friendships to sports. You personally know their teachers, classmates, coaches, and teammates. You have a good understanding of what they’re facing each day, and gradually guide them from toddlerness to schoolageness, taking a little step back each year to allow them to guide themselves. But you’re still there if they wander off the path.

Next September I will get what I had wanted for so long: both of my kids in the same school with one drop off and one pick up. Both old enough to handle homework, friendships, chores, and life without constant handholding.

I just didn’t realize how hard it would be for me to let go of their hands.

So now I come to my daughter’s school a little earlier than usual and linger with friends a bit later, as well. I watch her chase and be chased on the playground, her giggles lifting up to tangle with the branches above, which have been shading her since she was a preschooler with a much shorter stride. I smile when she asks for my help and I can actually give it. I relish in her love of things still innocent, like dolls and crafts and costumes and silly games with silly friends.

I did not see how much I was losing when my son stepped away from me, deep into the halls of middle school that first day, for it was my first day of running between the two buildings, trying to make sure everyone had everything they needed and got to where they had to be on time. I missed it, that moment when he shifted from my little boy who needed me to the young man who rolls his eyes and laughs when I try to throw him a kiss before he shuts the car door. Thinking too hard on that makes my chest ache, and I vow not to make that mistake again.

I will soak in every moment of little kidness my daughter has left in her while I can, enjoying what is probably the last of her simpler years. And when the day comes for the whole school to line up to clap as her class as exits the building one last time, I hope it will be pride for who she became throughout her time in that school, not regret that I didn’t appreciate it more as it happened, that fills my eyes with tears.

Photo: Getty