Childhood’s a Blur…and So Are the Pictures
We didn’t do the last day of school right.
All six of us woke up late—we had already started easing into slack summer bedtimes a few days early, and we all slept in.
So the last morning of school turned into a whirlwind of cereal-shoveling and lunch-packing and gift-wrapping, all to a frantic soundtrack:
“Please tell me someone found that library book!”
“Quick, tie a bow around that teacher gift!”
“Mommy, did you remember to buy water bottles?”
“I forgot—just grab your broken Thermos.”
“Mommy, you promised!”
“WHERE’S MY SHOE?”
We stumbled out the door, a flurry of backpacks and uncombed hair and teacher gifts with bows half-tied. We made it just in time.
After the kids sprinted to class, I knocked on the door of my son’s second-grade classroom for the last time, to deliver his teacher a gift from her students: a framed photo collage, our attempt to preserve a memory so she could keep it forever.
This spring she had organized a 24-hour “Skype-a-thon.” Mrs. L and her students camped out for 24 hours at school, Skyping other classrooms in time zones they could never contact during normal school hours. Mrs. L found a way to stretch class time long enough so her students could meet other children across the globe.
Overnight she helped her students “travel” to every time zone, to places few will ever visit in person—to Palestine, Nepal, South Africa, Australia, Malaysia, Belgium… 27 countries and 3 U.S. States in all. In those wondrous 24 hours my son and his friends met other students “face-to-face,” talking school and history and favorite soccer teams. They giggled and shared and built bridges, one cinderblock classroom to another, on cheap computers with unreliable Internet signals—but they did it. They pulled it off. She pulled it off.
It was a herculean feat, a one-of-a-kind, world’s-first type event. It was worthy of a photo collage, and so much more—maybe a World’s Best Teacher award, or better yet a Nobel Peace Prize. In lieu of a Nobel Prize, Mrs. L’s students did the best they could: they made a photo collage. The pictures were blurry, taken by weary parents with cell phones in the middle of the night; the kids’ signatures were sloppy, scrawled in their second-grade style… but somehow Mrs. L got teary-eyed anyway. I left to the sound of happy chatter, as she tried to hold on to a few last hours with her students.
But halfway across the school parking lot, I stopped, stricken. I’d forgotten to photograph the moment. I’d been so caught up in it—wanting her to feel our gratitude, wishing the kids could fully grasp this great experience she had given them, this lifelong gift—that I forgot to take a picture to memorialize the memorializing. I stood debating: Should I go back and interrupt, waste their dwindling class time, embarrass my son for the sake of posterity? Or just let it go?
I decided to let it go, but the memory-maker inside me died a little.
And so there will be no Last Day of School picture of my son with his second-grade teacher and the gift we gave her. (Really, the gift she gave him.)
And thanks to our family’s hectic morning, there will be no cute split-screen, first day-last day pictures of my kids on social media, the ones that show how much they’ve grown during the school year. There just wasn’t time.
And that’s the trouble with time, and with childhood… there’s never enough. Not during the school day. Not on the last day of school, or the first, or even in the summer. Because even today, with six vacation weeks stretching out ahead of us, sparkling with possibility, I feel the tug of the real-life calendar: the work that still has to be done, the summer reading list I should probably enforce, the dozens of fun family memories we want to cram into such a short span.
And sad as I feel today about the last day of school, in six weeks I know I’ll be mourning the end of another blink-of-an-eye summer, wishing for more. Wishing for more lazy mornings; for more days that end with sand in the bathtub and wet towels on the floor; for more long stormy afternoons when everyone’s bored and it’s all I can do to keep them off electronics and using their imaginations instead. Those days too will fade, faster than they should.
So it all has me thinking: How do I want to spend these glorious, too-few summer days?
And how should we have spent that last day of kindergarten, second, and third grades? Should we have gotten up a little earlier? Rushed a little faster, pushed a little harder to do it all right, take the pictures, mark the moment?
Because the thing is, on that last morning, somehow the kids made it to school with clothes on—clothes that weren’t photo-worthy, but were perfect for one final romp on the playground with friends. All the teachers got gifts from the heart, and most of the gifts even had crooked bows on them. And all my kids had lunches in hand—composed of weird, end-of-the-paycheck-so-the-pantry-is-bare kind of foods—but still, food. More food than some of the students we met in the Skype-a-thon will ever see in their lunchboxes.
My kids rushed out the door that last-day morning, true to youth. Rushing, rushing—over too quickly, gone too soon.
No, I didn’t stop to photograph it, this fleeting childhood moment… instead we fumbled it together, raced through it together, tried to make each other laugh when we all felt like crying. I didn’t photograph it, but I experienced it with them, as present as time would allow.
Maybe that’s the way our morning should have gone after all.
It’s the way I hope our summer goes, minus the running late part: all of us together, trundling along in a sandy minivan, off to make a mess, and maybe new friends, in a new place. Embracing the chaos, forgetting to take pictures because there isn’t time for anything but each other—anything but now, this moment, this memory-in-progress. Making the most of what time we have. Knowing that even if we stopped to take pictures, they’d turn out blurry anyway.
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Photo credit: Sara Engel of Sara Engel Photography.
Elizabeth works from home as a writer, editor, diaper changer, baby snuggler, laundry slayer, not-so-gourmet chef, kid chauffeur, floor mopper, dog groomer, and tantrum tamer. She is always tired, but it's mostly the good kind.