‘Last day’ blues

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Smartmom cried on the Oh So Feisty One’s last day of school this week. She always does. They were quiet tears: quickly-brushed-away tears, and tears-that-got-stuck-in-the-middle-of-her-throat tears.

There is something about seeing the teachers coming out of PS 321 with the children they have been teaching for the past year that really moves her. The teachers also often look near tears.

On the last day of first grade eight years ago, Teen Spirit’s teacher was wearing the same floral print dress she wore on the very first day when she was welcoming the children.

That killed Smartmom. Just slayed her.

On Wednesday, Smartmom observed OSFO, slightly stooped from a backpack stuffed with the contents of her desk, as she walked away from her third-grade teachers and classmates — the people who, for a year, formed an important part of her world.

She and her friends looked a little dazed. They held their Build-a-Bears and Build-a-Dogs, who had married, divorced, re-married, and had children during the year in a complex social dance that played out at recess.

Some of the children cried and hugged (Smartmom couldn’t tell if the bears were crying). Other kids looked scared and uncertain about the future. Many were, of course, tremendously excited to begin summer vacation. Such a mixed blessing: the end of one thing, the beginning of the next.

After the good-byes, the teacher thank-yous, the hugs, and the “see you next years,” the parents ripped open the report card envelopes to see which teacher they (er, their child) would have next year.

“Who’d you get?” was heard all over the schoolyard.

The answer was on the last page of the report card. But to complicate matters, PS 321 gives the room number, not the teacher’s name.

“Whose class is 318?”

“Does anyone know the teacher in 327?”

Parents attempted to match a number with a name. There was one savvy parent walking around with the PS 321 directory, giving out the vital information. Everyone gathered around that person.

Finding out about next year’s teacher is the de facto moment of truth. The parents who got a desired teacher had looks of satisfaction as they put the report card back in its small manila envelope.

But the parents who got an unfamiliar teacher, a mystery teacher or, Buddha forbid, a name that they didn’t want, offered looks of disappointment, even anger.

And consider the children: “All my friends are in one class. I’m all alone,” Smartmom overheard one girl say tearfully.

Smartmom experienced a “now what?” feeling. The quest to find companions for next year was suddenly replaced with the great expanse of summer vacation.

It was a snap transition from schoolness to no schoolness and it felt a little empty, even lonely.

When they got back to the apartment, Smartmom and OSFO got out the Pillsbury cookie dough and started baking for the end-of-school party that OSFO had planned for her friends and their stuffed animals later in the afternoon.

From the end of the hallway, Smartmom heard Teen Spirit, who has been out of school for more than a week, stirring in his bedroom.

“It’s 12:30. Time to get up!” Smartmom yelled. At 15, Teen Spirit is thrilled to be free of the shackles and chains of school life. Now he just wants to sleep late and watch movies.

The fact that he hasn’t figured out what he’s doing this summer is making Smartmom increasingly nervous. Initially he considered being a CIT at his old day camp.

“But I sort of want to be able to sleep late on my summer vacation,” he said.

For the last week he’s been spending most of his time figuring out chords on his new left-handed acoustic guitar and listening to his iPod instead of canvassing Seventh Avenue shops for summer employment.

Smartmom emailed friends, trying to drum up a summer job for her nearly 6-foot baby boy.

“He’s handsome, smart, well read, and a fount of world knowledge,” she wrote. “Work experience: None.”

While the cookies were baking, a friend called to see if Teen Spirit would be willing to feed a guinea pig, a parrot, clean the guinea pig’s cage, and water plants while she was away on a week’s vacation.

Sure, Smartmom said, he loves that sort of thing. Not. But she knew he needed the work. Make that: Smartmom needed him to work.

Smartmom volunteered Teen Spirit to do something he probably wouldn’t want to do. There would almost certainly be a fight. Nasty words would be strewn about. She winced at the thought of the conflict that was practically a daily fact of life.

Smartmom knocked on Teen Spirit’s door to wake him up and talk to him about his summer plans. Specifically about his upcoming stint as a guinea-pig-cage cleaner. Then she decided better of it and went back to baking cookies. There was plenty of time for conflict. Later.

While OSFO squirted purple frosting on her just-baked cookies, Smartmom read OSFO’s report card to sustain the connection with what they’d just left behind: the class trips, the poetry celebrations, class 320’s arctic museum…

There would be plenty of time to ponder what the summer would hold, and to prevent Teen Spirit’s descent into slackerdom. But for the afternoon, it helped to hold onto the report card, the backpack, the stack of class work, the hard-to-store artwork.

Like a baby’s security blanket, these transitional objects would smooth the way into the next new thing.

Louise Crawford, a Park Slope mom, also operates “Only the Blog Knows Brooklyn.”
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