Childhood’s a Blur…and So Are the Pictures


how to slow down and enjoy childhood via @lizzylit

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?

Maybe.

Maybe not.

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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 how to slow down and enjoy childhood via @lizzylit

 Photo credit: Sara Engel of Sara Engel Photography


A Letter to My Children’s Teachers, from a Grateful Parent


A thank you to teachers

Dear Teacher,

It’s the season of grand finales, the time of last things.

I took my kids’ first-day-of-school pictures, shook your hand at the Open House, blinked, and now here we are: sprinting down the home stretch of another school year. Caught in the dizzying whirlwind of end-of-grade tests and end-of-year assemblies and end-of-everything parties.

It’s exhausting. Expensive. And a little depressing.

It’s bittersweet that my kids are another year older, scribbling their closing lines in another ending-too-soon childhood chapter—but it’s more than that. I’m sad that my children’s time with you is drawing to a close. Not just their time in this grade, with these friends. Their time with you. Their teacher.

When I look at you, I see someone with sparkling talent: Clever. Creative. Charismatic. Compassionate.

You could have used those gifts to pursue any career you wanted.

You chose teaching, the noblest profession of all.

You chose to get up early and stay up late.

You chose to be underpaid and rarely thanked.

You chose to help raise other people’s kids.

You chose to tolerate “the system” because you believe in the children.

You chose to find ways to put your own innovative spin on education, in spite of the complex requirements thrust upon you from Distant Powers That Be.

You chose to push through on days when you were sick, or overwhelmed, or tired—because your students needed you.

You chose to give your kids—my kids—second, third, fourth, and fortieth chances, and to always believe they could be better tomorrow.

You chose to worry about children whose difficult home lives are beyond your power to improve.

You chose to care even though it was a gamble.

You chose to care even when the kids didn’t care back.

You chose to care, period.

This could have been just another year you had to survive.

Another year to slog through, counting the days till summer.

Another year closer to that too-small, still-have-to-moonlight-as-a-tutor-in-order-to-make-it retirement package.


Want more from Elizabeth? Click here to preorder her next book, When God Says “Wait,” coming March 1 from Barbour Publishing! 


My child could have been just another project.

Just another name, on just another class roster.

Just another number, one of twenty-five.

But they weren’t. Not to you.

For the past nine months, you chose to love my child, though you did not have to. (Nine months! The time it takes to grow a person . . . coincidence? Perhaps not.)

And it’s not like you had the luxury of handpicking each of your students, choosing the ones who would make a perfect match for your methods, your style. No, someone handed you a roster one hot afternoon as last year’s summer waned. You read down that list and took these children—these people-still-becoming—into your class, and into your heart.

From that first butterflies-in-tummies morning, that day of new shoes and perfect pigtails and fresh pencils, you decided to love those kids—all twenty-five of them. It was a risk, that decision to love. To fully invest. To put your own heart and happiness on the line. To intertwine your grown-up joys and struggles and successes with their growing-up ones.

You took that risk.

I could see it in your eyes, the way you laughed at their endless immature jokes and anticipated, even came to enjoy, all their crazy quirks. After a few months, you understood things about my kids that I thought only I knew: the way she chews her eraser when she’s nervous; the way he gets quiet when he’s got hurt feelings; the way she melts down when she doesn’t get her homework just right.

And it’s not just my kids—you’ve done it for the whole classroom, all twenty-five kids. You’ve cared enough to study them. To figure out what makes sense to them, what motivates them, so you could teach each one in the best way you know how.

When I walked into your classroom to volunteer, I could feel the sense of “we,” the community you had built among those twenty-five young souls. I felt like an outsider—not because you or the kids were rude, but because you were all so close. I wanted in on all your class secrets, your silent pacts, your private jokes. Your crazy “remember when we all fell out of our chairs laughing” stories that only the twenty-six of you can fully appreciate. Your funny sayings that you all shout out at the same time. Your silly songs you sing when it’s time to “flash-flash-ding-ding, change that sign” (whatever that means—I still don’t know).

Pep talk from Mrs. L via @lizzylit

It couldn’t have been easy, forging this connection, creating community from chaos. You took a hodge-podge group of random students—children with varying abilities, from every imaginable family structure, from a broad sampling of cultures and religions—and you built a culture and family of your own. If the whole world could see what you have accomplished in these short months, in this cinderblock classroom, with these precious, different-but-same children, I have to believe the whole planet would be different. Better.

And you know what? The world is different, the world is better, because of what you have achieved here in this tiny room, with this growing group.

And while building unity may have been one of your biggest accomplishments this year, I also treasure the countless small gifts you gave my kids along the way.

You hugged them when they fell on the playground, and I wasn’t there.

You talked them down when they were fighting with friends.

You drew them out when they were quiet, or worried, or discouraged.

You cheered the loudest when they finally got it, that thing that had them confused for so long.

You put up with my kids when they were less than they could have been. I’m sure they annoyed you sometimes. Stumped you. Maybe even made you mad. (Believe me, I know what their bad days are like. I live with them.) But you pushed on anyway. You chose to keep giving.

And this letter is to say thank you, from me and my children.

Your name is inscribed in the pages of our family history: Who was your very first preschool teacher? Your kindergarten teacher? Your second-grade teacher? Your third-grade teacher? Your eighth-grade English teacher? Your name will forever live on in that list, and in our hearts.

Your influence is a thread woven into our family fabric. Your teaching has shaped my children’s upbringing, character, and path. You have changed them, helped them on their way to becoming the people they’re going to be.

For all this, and so much more, to all my kids’ teachers—past, present, and future—thank you for who you are, what you do, and all you give. We will never forget you.

And to Ms. F, Mrs. C, Ms. C, Ms. O, Mrs. B, Mrs. J… we miss you already.

To Mr. M, Mrs. L, Mrs. H, Mrs. W, Mrs. F, “Knock-Knock” and “Nulty,” you know we love you always!


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A thank you to teachers

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