Bittersweet Transitions:: One Mom’s Thoughts on a School Year Cut Short

Each year, as the school year begins to wind down and summer preparations begin to take shape, I am usually excited and full of anticipation, particularly in years when we have major family milestones to celebrate. I have five kids ranging in age from 29 through 12,  so my family has celebrated college graduations, high school graduations, junior high graduations, elementary transitions and, my personal favorite, the big jump from preschool to kindergarten. This year, though, as my Olivia prepares to transition from eighth grade to her freshman year of high school, things are different.  

Our Current Situation

There’s nothing normal about the life we’re all currently living. Day to day schedules are all but forgotten and family plans have been altered or all together canceled. In our social distancing we’ve become creative in observing special occasions – drive by birthday parades, virtual happy hours with friends, even online gender reveals and baby showers. Actually, I find the resiliency of  the human spirit to be inspiring; however, this is not what I was planning when I considered my daughter’s last day of junior high school.  

Olivia’s last day of physically going to school was March 6th, the day before Spring Break. We had originally planned a family vacation for that week but, as the news about Coronavirus intensified, my husband and I decided to cancel. It was about the middle of the week when it started to sink in that all of the normal end of the eighth grade school year events were probably not going to happen. Olivia had mentioned wanting to find her dress for the eighth grade dance, but I side stepped the question, not wanting to alarm her {or her sister}, but I figured we’d give it a little time to see where things landed. By the end of the week, the school district announced that classes were moving to online and I knew that my plans for the end of junior high celebrations were all but gone.

The jump from junior high to high school is huge for most kids and my daughter is no exception. We’ve been talking about it since the beginning of the school year, last August – excitement mixed with a fair dose of anxiety. She’s been taking a couple of high school courses this year so the anxiety isn’t academic, but more social. New kids, bigger school, upperclassmen…HOMECOMING DRESSES!!!! The anticipation is palpable and it was building among her friend group – and then it was gone.  Vanished, along with the end of the junior high school year festivities that signal to the eighth graders that it’s their time to move on. Now we wonder when or if the kids will return to school. I think the saddest part for me occurred a couple of days ago when she acknowledged that she will probably not see her friends and teachers again before the school year is over. What she {and maybe me, too} desires is closure.

Perspective

To be clear, I am very aware that in the face of a global pandemic, my sadness over my daughter’s end of junior high celebration is definitely what some would refer to as a “first world problem”. I’m sure that at least one person will give me major side eye after reading this, and I get it. However, this hasn’t stopped me from crying in my closet on more than one occasion and I know I’m not alone in my sadness.  More than one mom friend of mine has admitted to similar feelings. Ultimately, these tears are really about more than canceled or abbreviated plans. Our day to day lives are punctuated by those moments that hold significance:: birthdays, anniversaries, weddings, graduations, births and, sadly, funerals. Events that we usually plan with care. Yet here we are unable to really plan at all. Maybe our tears are a longing for a sense of normalcy or a modicum of control over our lives. Maybe our tears are because what is  happening to us collectively is so much bigger than us, that we just want something joyful and familiar, like my family celebrating our daughter moving on to high school.

Also, it is not lost on me that this turn of events and the abrupt end to the school year has unwittingly provided me with more downtime to spend with my daughter and the rest of my family. Given our hectic schedules before COVID – 19, we have spent more unscheduled time just being with each other and enjoying each other’s company. In the midst of all of this upheaval, this is one thing for which I am grateful. 

Time to Celebrate

So, now that we know that school buildings will not reopen for this school year, we have to keep it moving. There’s no Eighth Grade Dance. No friends to sign the yearbook. No, we won’t be spending a long weekend in Galveston or at our favorite resort in San Antonio. However, we will be celebrating! We will shower our girl with affection and tell her how proud we are of her. We’ll order takeout from her favorite restaurant. We will make her favorite cake and face time with relatives.  We might even let her pick the movie for family movie night {I wouldn’t count on it if I were her}. After all, regardless of the interruption, she is still officially a high school freshman. I will also find solace in the thought that all of these students – from kindergarten to seniors about to graduate –  will be a little more adaptable than some of their predecessors. They may be better prepared to deal with the unknown and a lot less intimidated by change. At least, this is my prayer for my daughter and her friends as they take their next big leap.  Welcome class of 2024!


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