Grief, Gratitude, and “The Last Normal”

This week is extra emotional for me in the milestones that have been disrupted… My son’s Kindergarten Graduation would have been today, and instead of seeing him in an adorable mini cap and gown, watching him walk over the little ceremonial bridge to receive his individualized diploma, we had a drive by parking lot goodbye to his teachers and collected the last art projects that had been left on the school walls as his class headed out for spring break. They didn’t know they’d never come back into their classroom… at the time they hadn’t even announced the “one week extension” of spring break to comply with the first round of stay at home orders.

This day was something that we knew was coming. We’ve been doing distance learning for months and it was announced a while ago that in person school was cancelled for the rest of the year. I couldn’t figure out why it was hitting me so hard, why I kept finding tears flooding my eyes when I thought about officially ending the school year on such a different and disappointing note.

The dancing pictures are much more adorable and well lit, but I’m not going to show the faces of other people’s kids on my blog without their permission so…

And then I started seeing the trend on social media of people sharing their “last normal photos” from before COVID-19 changed everyone’s daily lives. I could tell you exactly what that picture was without looking- the pictures from my son’s “Fairy Tale Ball” -specifically a picture of his class listening to a last song by the band on this special night before everyone went home. It is in my photo stream just after pictures of him dancing like crazy with his classmates and teachers. I have not been able to forget this image. I also found myself unable to delete the last regular “classroom update” emails- the ones that list sight words for the week and who the classroom volunteers will be instead of listing distance learning resources. I am usually quite good with sorting and deleting emails right away to get me back to “Inbox 0” but I’m never quite ready to let go of this last tie to normalcy. I’m not sure why… it’s not like it will make the “return to normal” or even feeling more confident in a new normal happen any more quickly. It’s not like I have forgotten what “the before times” were like or need it to remember what I hope will happen again. Maybe now that the school year is over, I’ll be able to slowly let that go.

I don’t know why the school related milestones are the hardest for me. Maybe because this would all be easier if my kids were ALL young enough to not remember this- (a blessing that I pray our baby and possibly even our oldest daughter will have). Maybe because I have always loved school and the traditions around it so much. Maybe because now I have to face the little part of my brain that was still holding tightly to the denial that somehow things would work out faster than original predictions. I don’t know.

But I DO know that today was full of tears of grief and loss . Not only the loss my kids experienced daily- the loss of their classmates and being in a classroom and on the playground, of losing a lot of learning opportunities that just can’t be replicated virtually, but also my own losses. I miss the crazy excited hugs that greeted me after each classroom pickup. I miss being the classroom librarian and getting time to talk with teachers about each coming week’s theme before carefully selecting books from the library. I miss watching the kids run around with their friends after school- SO MUCH JOY on display all at once. I miss having special conversations with my kids on the way home from school.   

Drive through goodbye with masks and gloves– not how I pictured Kindergarten graduation…

Of course, today was also full of the happiest tears for how WONDERFUL the first 3/4 of the year were for my kids. We were so  lucky to have found a school that is so hard to see my oldest leave. I’m grateful for the sweet goodbyes- my daughter was sent off with three cheers and took a little bow in her carseat. My son was sent off with affirmations and little “graduation gifts” and they both received sweet yearbooks to remember the good that happened this school year. It’s not fair that they didn’t get to finish the year off the way it started- with hands on activities and hugs from their teachers. But I guess it’s also not fair that some kids will never get teachers as great as the ones my kids have had before even entering 1st grade.

And in this completely unprecedented moment in my own life, and what I hope will be a once in a lifetime event for my kids… we’re still creating a little bit of normal in our end of year celebrations. I still took last day of school pictures. We will still eat ice cream for breakfast tomorrow, because that’s what we do as a family on the first day of summer vacation. We will still make a (modified) summer bucket list and have family Friday movie nights until the new school year starts, however that happens to look. I don’t think it will be quite so easy to pinpoint “the last weird picture” some day in the future when this is all over… but I hope that amidst the documented weird moments there are also a lot of images of love and resilience and creativity. Luckily, my kid just “Graduated” from a kindergarten class that gave him a wonderful start on all those things.



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