I always get sentimental around this time of year. It's those dang kids, looking so old like they do in June. They seem like they're in the next grade already-- the kindergarteners turning into first-graders, the third-graders into fourth-graders, and like that. The set of their faces seems different, they're taller. They ask me for chapter books and I wonder: when did they learn to read? I've been at my job so long that I've known most of them since they were in kindergarten, so it's kind of freaky to see them turning into these weird older versions of themselves.
I once worked with a teacher who said that after teaching second grade for so long, she not only could remember what the kids were like back in kindergarten, but she could look at them and see what they'd be like as teenagers. The kids she said that about, as we stood in the park six years ago watching them kick a soccer ball around, are in eighth grade now, big hulking pseudo-grownups ready to graduate from our school.
(Fortunately, the kids usually also become completely nuts
around this time of year, or I'd dissolve into a puddle of mush.)
This year I have two schools to get all verblunget about, as of course my own tiny little mewling (screaming like a banshee, actually, if I remember right) baby is about to "graduate" from kindergarten at the Smartypants Yuppie School. Last night was the Spring Concert for the choirs and bands. Mermaid Girl has been in the Little Kids' Choir since January, after we went to the Winter concert and she saw a bunch of her classmates singing. So we trooped over early and she stood up there in her maroon SYS Choir T-shirt and acutally did appear to be moving her lips and singing and clapping and stamping her feet along with everyone else.
I wish I could say that was what got me choked up, but actually I find it hard to focus when my own kid is performing; my every cell is so focused on willing her to be Okay and wondering exactly how much eye contact is the right amount that I can't really Be In the Moment. Still, it's hard to be unaffected by seventy 5-to-7-year-olds singing their hearts out, even if what they're singing is (I kid you not) "The Mickey Mouse Club."
But what really hit me hard was the Big Kid Choir, who closed out the evening. I don't know most of these children from a hole in the wall, but I've seen some of them around--at the Winter Concert, at MG's aftercare or on her bus--and they looked familiar in a generic kid kind of way. They opened with a couple of songs from "Oliver!" and then swung into Bob Marley's "Three Little Birds
"Don't worry," they sang, "About a thing. 'Cause every little thing...gonna be all right." And my heart cracked open, and I started crying, right there in the front row.
I couldn't tell you why. I can't really explain it now, though I've been trying to, for this post. I just kept looking at them singing, those sweet-faced third-graders who used to be MG's age, and the older kids, in the back, one foot out the door of elementary school already. "Don't worry," they sang, over and over, "About a thing."
You could say, I guess, that these kids don't have a thing to worry about
. By the standards of the world, most or all of them are incredibly privileged: they live in nice houses, in a safe, comfortable neighborhood, with (mostly, I'm guessing, based on the families I've met from this school) loving and open-minded parents. They're in the golden years of childhood: third, fourth, and fifth grade, the hard stumblings and frustrations of preschool and little-kid-hood far behind them, the rocky shores of adolescence still out in the distance.
But everyone has worries. MG's teacher's son was there in the back row, a fifth grader, singing out without embarrassment like the sweet boy he is, but his face already lean and chiseled with the beginnings of his teenage self. His friend, a tall blond kid with a cloud of proto-hippie hair, stood next to him. They'll be going to middle school next year; how can they not be worried about that? The girls who are starting to develop, the kids whose parents fight, the wondering if you'll be in the best reading group or get invited to the birthday party-- all those worries must swirl around their heads, as they did for me and everyone I know who was once a kid.
"Every little thing...gonna be all right," they sang again. How can they know all the ways that can be false? All the disappointments and setbacks, the breakups, the blown job interviews, the money worries, the deaths, the fights. The big and little tragedies of life. And the grinding everyday-ness of middle age.
It's the most banal truism in the world, that children grow older and up into grownups, that grownups were once children. But it never ceases to knock me back. I was a kid once too, with endless potential, made much of and applauded for every little thing. I don't have a bad life; I have a good job, a loving family. I'm lucky in many of the same ways they are. But sometimes all I can see, looking back, are the dead ends and lost opportunities, the wrong choices, the frittering away of decades of a life I'm almost halfway through.
"This is my message to you-ou-ou," they sang on, oblivious (I hope) to that weird weeping mom snorfling into her shirt in the front row. And it was, though they didn't know it. It was their message to me.
"Don't worry...about a thing. Cause every little thing...gonna be all right." I wish it to be true for all of them. I wish them extraordinary lives. I wish them to live out their potential and know happiness and change the world. And I wish it for me, too, of course. And for Mermaid Girl. Can it be, that everything could be all right?
We left the concert, MG's arms full of flowers from doting parents and grandparents, and split up for the ride home since RW had come right from work. Mermaid Girl and I drove through the still-light evening. We passed the funky little park up the street; it's old and unreconstructed, with sand on the ground instead of groovy new-age rubber. The climber and monkey bars are old-school metal and wood, not bright primary-colored plastic. There are never many kids there; the whole place feels seedy and marginal. But it's the only park in walking distance, so we've been going there since she was a baby, and have a stubborn affection for it.
"Look!" MG cried as we passed. "It's Nene and Lola!" And there they were, our next-door neighbor and her toddler daughter, climbing on the unpainted, splintery climber. "Can't we stop to play with them a little?" she asked sweetly. "Please?"
It was almost 9:00, and she had big smudges under her eyes. I hesitated. Usually we push through our evenings, transition to transition, focused single-mindedly on getting her in bed on time so she doesn't melt down the next day.
The air was warm and clear, the way Seattle can be on its best days. The sky was still daytime-blue, but the moon shone in the sky. The breeze blew in the open window.
I swung around the block and pulled up in front of the park, and MG ran to meet our neighbors. She kicked off her flip-flops and pumped herself on the swings. She showed off her flips on the bar, and gave Lola a hug when we all left a few minutes later.
"You know," I said, back in the car. "Do you remember back on Rosh Hashanah when we threw our sins in the water
? And you wanted to throw away the sin of not singing and clapping with everyone else?"
"Yeah," she said.
"I think you really threw that sin away. Because tonight, I saw you singing and clapping."
She just sat in her booster seat, so proud, and a little older already than she was yesterday.
It could be. It could be that I don't need to worry. About a thing.