Processing the Loss of My Youngest’s Elementary School “Lasts”

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Like many other households, ours came to a screeching stop about six weeks ago when we received “stay at home” orders from our governor. Our jam-packed calendar went from at least one commitment per day (and more often than not, two or three commitments per day) to nothing. Bare. It was a welcome change of pace, at least at first, and it gave us time to slow down and reassess the worthiness of constantly being busy.

As days turned to weeks, though, taking one item off the calendar after another became more disheartening. We were no longer removing practices and meetings; instead, treasured and highly anticipated events like soccer tournaments, track meets, school plays, and film festivals were erased from the pages of my planner. I kept reminding myself, though, that we were safe and healthy at home, and since none of my kids are seniors this year I really don’t have grounds for sadness. They would get over the disappointment and still have school events to look forward to as they got older. For now, we just needed to buckle down, power through the rest of the school year, and try to enjoy what would be left of summer.

Having three kids in school is not a small task, especially when my oldest has Down syndrome and his education requires a lot more of my time and attention than that of my younger kids. With my oldest already in high school, I’ve been doing this now for 12 years. That is a long time for first days, conferences, art shows, musicals, class parties, field trips, and last days. I like to think I’m fairly involved, so once my youngest son started school, I was already tired. I’ve been happy to cheer him on at all of his school events and milestones, but not with the same sadness I’ve witnessed from other moms as they watched their baby finish their last whatever-it-may-have-been. I remember waiting to sign out of the school after his recorder concert (the third recorder concert I’d sat through in five years, which is honestly three too many), and watching the mom ahead of me wipe tears from her eyes because it was her last recorder concert. As she left the school office and I stepped up to sign out, I shrugged and said “I’m just not that sad about it,” almost apologetically. Perhaps I should have been more sentimental, but I’d been there, done that, and I probably had another kid to get somewhere.  

I felt the same on his first day of fifth grade, back in August. I didn’t have a single sniffle as I watched him go off on the bus to begin his last year of elementary school. By then, I’d been putting kids on buses for two straight hours, and I had to get to work. It’s not that I wasn’t feeling anything, it’s just that it didn’t hit me as a powerful moment back then.

But this morning, eight months later, I was making coffee and noticed the dog’s leash on the floor; I picked it up to put it back in its basket. Our dog heard the familiar jingle and perked up from her nap. She excitedly trotted towards me, ready to head to the bus stop, as was our routine for so long. Right then, it hit me: I would never escort another elementary schooler to their bus stop. Gone were the days of walking hand in hand to the corner, chatting about the day’s upcoming events. The sweet moments of my boy jumping off the bus at the end of the day, to rush over and ask me “How was your day?” before I could ask about his day, are over. Boom, just like that, those precious moments are part of our history and that simple realization stole my breath.

That lightning bolt moment was just the beginning of the waterworks. My son has always had great teachers, but he really clicked with this year’s teacher, and their time together was cut short. Now he’ll be launched into the chaos of middle school without that last reassuring hug or fist bump, or that final encouragement of handwritten notes on his assignments. He’s leaving the safe, warm world of elementary school without all the precious last moments and traditions he’s watched his older siblings enjoy. The school is doing everything possible to recognize these fifth graders (he’ll still get a t-shirt and celebratory yard sign, and for that, I am very grateful!), but it just won’t be the same as watching him proudly walk the halls, one last time, for the Fifth Grade Clap Out on the last day of school. 

Admirably, my kids have been so strong through this upheaval of their lives, and in the end, they’ll all be fine. But, in a time when kids are expected to grow up so quickly, I’ve decided to allow myself time to be sad because my baby is missing these last, celebrated moments of childhood. It feels like he was born just a few weeks ago, and the time between now and his high school graduation will pass just as quickly. While he’s not missing out on all the “final lasts” that the Class of 2020 has to forfeit, his experience has still been altered. 

We’ll still find a way to celebrate our elementary school “graduate,” as well as our middle school “graduate,” in a few weeks as the school year comes to a close. In the grand scheme of things, this pause is nothing but a blip on our collective story, and in a few years, we’ll look back and marvel at these days. For once, though, this won’t be a moment that I shrug off as I scurry to another commitment. I have the time now to process the loss of these elementary school “lasts,” and I intend to allow myself time to do just that before we look ahead to whatever challenges await us as our baby enters middle school. 

missing out on the "lasts" of school

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Jen Franklin Kearns
Jen Franklin Kearns grew up in Central Ohio and is pleased to raise her family here as well. She and her husband Mark reside in Delaware and are parents to Alex, Addie, and Andrew. Their home is completed by their loyal beagle, Maisey. Jen is a social media analyst for a local family foundation, and she is also a passionate advocate for inclusion and disability rights. Jen’s oldest son, Alex, has Down syndrome and Jen works tirelessly to ensure that Alex has access to inclusive opportunities in their community. Jen and Mark are raising their children to know that that inclusion matters for all. When Jen isn’t advocating, writing, or shuttling her kids back and forth to sports practices or club meetings, she enjoys perusing social media, reading, and drinking large amounts of coffee.

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