My birthday every year either coincides with the last day of school or immediately precludes it. This year, it fell on The Big Day once again. I was at work, preparing to leave in a few minutes to greet the buses for early release and much end-of-year fanfare, when Brendan came up front to check the calendar.
"When is Liam's graduation thing again?" He was swamped : patients in two rooms, in danger of losing another lunch. "I'm hoping to still make it."
I looked at him, drawing a blank. "What graduation thing?"
A slight, nauseated panic. For the past two weeks, keeping track of end of year activities for three kids needed an Excel spreadsheet and an assistant. I had just written out thank you cards for four teachers, three aides, two bus drivers, and a principal or two. I threw a Starbucks card into each, and felt proud of myself for inserting the right card into the right folder into the right backpack and making sure that Liam wore his orange shirt for his class color, as requested, and Aedan had a game to share for game day, which was almost missed (I ran after him with it that morning, minutes before the bus).
But a graduation ceremony? Hadn't he just had his class party - in both of his classes? How did I miss both this email and important convo with Brendan? Or, most curiously, the event marked "Liam's end of year ceremony" on the work Google calendar in the 12:45 slot? May 21st, Thursday. Today.
I quickly called school to confirm.
"Ceremony? Well there is no ceremony, but fifth graders are walking the halls of the school one last time. All parents are welcome to cheer them on and greet them outside."
Was THIS why he had to wear the orange shirt again?
It would be a quick thing, happening at 12:30 - in 20 minutes.
I jumped out of my chair and collected my purse. I stopped for a coffee and a sushi roll en route. I parked the car (miraculously, there was a spot close to the front), put on some lip-gloss, and found the crowd of parents, cameras ready. Within literally two minutes, the doors opened and THERE HE WAS. We made it.
My lil' almost junior higher: his was the first class out of four fifth grades, and he walked third. I screamed for him, jumping up and down: he looked a little dazed, smiling at me and shimmying in for a hug.
"Hi!" he said. "I'm going to middle school!"
His extended resource teacher caught up to us, gave him a hug, told me about the goal he scored in Dodgeball that day, how excited he was to pack his backpack with all of his cubby items, how ready he was to go home.
Choked up, I thanked her for a stellar year and for all the care she showed him. She had patiently kept up a communication log with me - a log I was supposed to sign every day and write notes back to her, so we could keep up on the daily ins and outs of the Liam Show. Many a day, though, I forgot to sign, so she would email or call me , gently reminding me about a form to fill out or paper to return.
End of year mom of three kids: she was not as quasi "on top of it" as beginning-of-year- mom. Let's be honest: even "beginning of year mom" never found the elusive Organization Wand. I always had grand plans for keeping backpacks, folders, homework, notices, etc organized for each kid. By December though, usually whatever system I had developed kind of gradually toppled over. Thank God for Audrey's teacher keeping all the third graders on point, and thank goodness Miss A doesn't miss a beat. Her stuff always stayed on point, shaken in my face as soon as she walked in the door from the bus.
The boys, though…the boys were a different story. Aedan's projects always went down to the wire, when bases were loaded in the bottom of the last inning, and the clock ticked on. He/we would hammer out his projects and his work with little fanfare, and often the messy masterpieces went onto the bus with him with ink barely dry, glue blurring the edges of his perfect penmanship.
Liam's social studies project due at the end of April, adapted for him in his "typical" 5th grade classroom, required many reminders to this dunce mom. His teacher left me a pleasant voice mail and a very perky email the day before it was due; I kept him up late for bed, scrounging for a pot to put on his head and a satchel to carry "seeds" in (such a pathetic costume found Google inspiration minutes before).
He however was happy as a clam, with a silver bowl on his head, my Espirit de She yellow race bag across his chest, sporting a clean button up shirt. (Not historically accurate, but whatever). "Whew," I said to myself, snapping a pic of him with a big ol' cheesy grin when he got off the bus. A little misty-eyed, I read his teacher's glowing report of his exuberance reading the speech during the open house earlier that day.
"Great job, buddy!" I gushed, giving myself a half hearted pat on the back for not dropping that ball. Not completely, anyway.
There was a time, a few years ago, when fifth grade graduation seemed like an eon away. Now here I stood with him, taking pics of him with both his teachers (there are crowns in Heavens for special needs teachers AND typical teachers paired with unique kids like Liam, who adapt curriculum to challenge him). Arm in arm, we walked away from Cerritos for the last time.
"You did it, buddy." WE did it. "On to middle school!"
"See ya, elementary school . Hello sixth grade," he said, tired, smiling, waving. He looked at me quizzically as we braked at the red light. "Summer has begun, mom. Let's go home."
We did it, another year down. One elementary school career over - two more to go. Folders to wade through, papers to toss or save, dingy lunch boxes to wash, old backpacks to donate. And another summer to make a new "plan" for the next year, knowing full well that I'll go into next summer on fumes, just like I did this year, and every year prior.
No matter. I will jump into the pool with as loud of a victory yell as my kids, and enjoy the damn moment.