Gray Matters - Humor me
Belfast — My son Shane just turned nine, and this week will be the final week of his third grade year.
During the annual talent show at his school last week, I was speaking about this change in Shane's life with Nickerson School kindergarten teacher Shilo Burnham, who told me her child is also moving into the fourth grade next fall. We each agreed that while all new stages conjure up thoughts in every parent about how fast our kids are growing up, this particular stage feels very different because for whatever reason, fourth grade appears to be the end of the "little kid" stage.
It did make me feel a little better knowing that it wasn't just me who feels this way, but it doesn't make it any easier to come to terms with the fact that the little boy I used to have will be no more. He will now be replaced by a taller, more articulate and independent version of his former self, a situation that presents itself as a double-edged sword of pride for the great young man he is becoming and mourning for the end of those years when he seemed to need me most — everything from teaching him how to write his name legibly to reading him a bedtime story to help him get to sleep each night.
I look back at the time when I entered the fourth grade, though, and I still remember it as my favorite year in elementary school.
I remember our class had a then-brand new teacher, Elizabeth Totman, who knew all of our names and a little bit about each of us by the end of our very first day of school. She knew, for example, that I enjoyed writing and drawing.
Ms. Totman is still teaching the fourth grade at East Belfast School, and I know each of the hundreds of students she has taught over the years have equally fond memories of her. I also know, for a fact, that this fantastic teacher never forgets a face, no matter how many years have passed. A few years ago I went to East Belfast School to cover an event there, and Ms. Totman recognized me immediately. It was so cool to catch up with her, this woman who seems to never age and has always, in my opinion, been exactly where she belongs in that classroom.
I also started forging lifelong friendships at that time, too. I met my friend Emily Nickerson that year (she still lives locally, some of you may know her as Emily Ireland), and I will never forget all the great times we had trying to maneuver our way from childhood into the pre-teen years. We spent many hours watching our favorite films of that era — I think we must have seen "Dirty Dancing" thousands of times. We spent hours laughing at our own jokes, appreciating our awkwardness, and wondering what lay ahead of each of us. Of course, back then everyone thought they would grow up to be rock stars, actors and actresses or astronauts, and it was perfectly plausible and so much fun to consider those truly limitless possibilities.
As much as it saddens me to bid farewell to Shane's "little kid" years, I am also very hopeful that he will have those kinds of experiences, too, as they really helped shape who I grew up to become myself.
Tuesday morning, as Shane and I were waiting for his bus, I mentioned that it has been a while since he has asked me to read him a bedtime story and how much I missed that time with him.
"Well, mom, that's because I'm bigger now and I don't need you to read to me anymore," he said, in that matter-of-fact-way he has recently begin to use.
"Would it be okay if I still read you a story?" I asked, a question that carried both hope and doubt about the answer that would come.
"I guess it would be okay once in a while. You know. If you want to," he said.
Something about his response only reminded me more of how he has grown, almost overnight. I think part of him is a little sad to say goodbye to that chapter in his life, too, even thought he will never, ever admit it.
But the thing that really got me about his obvious decision to humor me on this issue is how much it showed me that no matter how old he is, and no matter where he is, we will always share one of the universe's strongest bonds, the one that binds a mother and son together for life.
And also, that it may be time to ask Shane to read me a bedtime story once in a while, too.