Today is Kit and Jack’s last day of preschool. Yesterday I drove over to the school where they’ll attend Kindergarten next year to pay their book fees.
It’s true, I guess. When one door closes, another one opens.
Just the same, I can’t believe my two youngest children are graduating tonight. I clearly remember the day I registered them for K-2. They’d attend class twice a week for four hours, the preschool director explained to me, and even though that seemed like an awfully long time to leave my toddlers at school I knew I’d be grateful for the freedom their absence would offer me. As Kit, Jack and I walked out of the director’s office that day I remember we heard the church bells peeling, ringing in the noon hour. The song they played felt familiar, like one I’d known a long time ago, but the tune also sounded hopefully new at the same time.
In the mail yesterday we received a copy of the uniform policy for Kit and Jack’s new school. John reminisced aloud as he read through the dress requirements, and then summed up his sentimentality with this bit of gratitude, “Well, at least they don’t have to wear green plaid.” Thank goodness for that.
When I am rich our community will have an Options Program like they do today at John’s alma mater. I’ll enroll Archie in it and invite all his peers to join him. But since I’m not all that rich right now, and because Greenville doesn’t have anything like the inclusive education program for students with special needs at Bishop England, Archie will be enrolled in an elementary school class designed for students with mild cognitive delays.
I’ve met his teacher, reviewed his class syllabus, and visited his school. I’m excited about his new class’s standards for reading, math, science, social studies and writing, and I’m having a difficult time believing Archie will be a first-grader next year. While I was touring the school last week I watched the students playing outside during recess time. They seemed so big, and watching them run from slide to swings to monkey bars made my stomach fill with butterflies. I don’t know how we got this far so fast.
“You have to promise me we’ll stay in touch,” said one of the other mothers to me this morning at Kit and Jack’s school as we were walking back to our cars. We’d been talking about something else so the sudden emotion with which she spoke knocked me around a bit. I stumbled for words as I always do when I expose sincere emotion, but eventually I rounded off what she had said.
I didn’t, but I wanted to touch her. To grab her wrist and pull her side close against my own. To stand together touching as a way to outwardly show that we’re in it together. I wish I didn’t always feel so awkward displaying my affection physically.
I am certain, though, that she and I will remain friends. Just this morning John and I were talking as we were getting dressed. I was in front of the mirror in our bathroom, fiddling with my hair, and he was in our closet, taking off one dress shirt he’d decided not to wear and replacing it with another. I can’t remember what exactly we’d been talking about, but I do remember insisting that it bolstered my belief that everything is cyclical.
“It’s like I’ve always said,” I insisted. “We travel in circles. Some are small and overlap more frequently, but some are bigger and take a longer time to move around. Our most important relationships are intentional. Sometimes I have a hard time believing in accidents.”
I am thinking now of three recent things that have happened to me over the past few weeks that I’d like to write about here. In between class field trips, and haircuts, and ballet recitals, and loads of laundry, and weekend races, and homework assignments, and evenings out with friends, and art shows, and gymnastic classes, and afternoons at the library life has also felt deliberately significant on occasion. I’ll come back soon and share here what I mean when I say that. I’ll tell you about these three things.
But before I go I want to write about last Friday afternoon when Kit and Jack were in art class upstairs and Archie and I played together on the playground tucked behind the Civic Center. The week before Archie urged me to help him climb the monkey bars. So that time I stood by, spotting him as he fumbled to make his way to the top of the dome. I didn’t help Archie that afternoon; rather I borrowed a trick from the trainers at the gym and just placed my hand on his back so he’d believe I was helping him. When Archie faltered I pressed harder on his back and encouraged him to figure it out. He did and ended up making it to the top all by himself.
When we found ourselves at the playground again last week I sat on a swing several feet from the monkey bars and watched as Archie circled the structure, chanting, “Figure it out… figure it out.” I willed myself to remain seated on the swing, to not sweep in to spot him, and cheered when Archie finally, on shaky arms and knocking knees, reached the top of the dome all by himself.
Archie ran to me after he climbed down, all flailing arms and faltering feet, and I lifted him onto my lap. We sat chest to chest, my biggest boy and I, and I helped him thread his sneakers through the swing’s chains so he could wrap his legs around my waist and cross his ankles behind my back. I pushed the swing with my legs and together Archie and I sailed back and forth, up and down. My stomach flipped a few times and I’m betting Archie’s did as well because he laughed and laughed and then rubbed his belly, telling me that it felt funny.
After a while Archie stopped laughing and laid his head against my chest. It was hot and humid my shirt got wet with our sweat. I started to sing. I began with the nursery rhymes I always recited to Archie when he was a baby, lying in my arms as he drank from his bottle, and then moved on to the Irish drinking songs my dad sang to my brother and I when we were small.
Soon I was singing “American Pie” like I learned to do when I was a teenager, listening to the car radio, “And can you teach me how to dance real slow?”
Then I moved on to my cache of Simon and Garfunkel songs, which always feels like the right sort of transition to make from Don McLean. Archie remained quiet as his cheek pressed against my chest, and his eyes were closed but not tightly enough to signal that he was sleeping. I worked my way through “Bookends” and “The Boxer” until I arrived at “America,” which is the song I stayed with until I’d sung it several times and it was time to go.
I’ve loved the haunting melody of that song since I was a child, and there’s something about the rolling thunder of the drums after the first stanza that gives me chills every time I hear it. That song makes me feel small again, but at the same time I feel so grown-up when I know now that I’ve come to understand what the lyrics mean.
I sang this song to my children, too, when they were babies and I was comforting them, but the lyrics have changed meaning for me as my children have grown. I used to think that one day I’d just get to a place inside myself and there I’d stay, but that was before I believed in the way life turns over on itself in concentric circles again and again.
They’ve all gone to look for America. We’ve all gone to look for America.