The Yard Signs came today.
Yard signs were not a thing when I was growing up in the Northeast, so I am not sure if they are a Southern thing or a new thing. Yard signs, to be clear, are congratulations for students matriculating from one level to the next. Each May, neighborhoods around my community, will have yards with signs congratulating students graduating from elementary school, middle school and high school. While some may view these signs with the ‘participation trophy eye roll’, they are happy indicators of an achievement. A milestone achieved.
Those milestones, however, can be bittersweet for parents and the signs spiked in the yard can serve as the pointed reminder of the passage of time.
When the yard signs for elementary school came out today, many of my friends posted on social media with apologies for the nostalgia they were feeling. One friend, with sons finishing elementary and middle school, like mine, invited people to hide her posts for the next few weeks as she was “in her feelings” and would be sharing a lot of memories.
Friends in your feelings, share away. Each of us know the sting of time passing too quickly and the burn of leaving a safe and loving place. I think it is only through sharing that we can move on.
Sean’s yard sign, indicating his graduation from Mountain Park Elementary School, was the one I spiked in the grass today. Mountain Park has been an integral part of my life for the last ten years and I am in my feels about leaving.
April 9, 2008 was the first time I entered “MPES”. I remember because it was my birthday and Kevin and I were bringing both boys to see the house he was building. Ryan, four years old at the time, had barfed in the car and I needed to stop to get something to clean him up. Schools weren’t locked at that time and I walked in to find kind people happy to give me paper towels and water. Having two boys in car seats that day, the children in the cafeteria seemed huge, mature and capable!
Approximately twelve months later, Ryan and I were back for kindergarten round up. This child who I felt was fresh out of my womb was practicing getting on a bus and touring a “media center”. Surely the surreality was unique to me!
When I met his teacher at the “sneak peek” that summer, I really introduced myself with a bang. I can remember, with the embarrassment one feels when recalling a fall where you know you showed your underpants, telling Ms. Nicol, “Ryan is very smart. If he isn’t challenged appropriately, he is likely to be disruptive in the classroom. What can you tell me you will do to keep him challenged and on task?”
Insert universal teacher eye roll. I should have wound up in a red file cabinet labeled “A-hole parents”, but to my knowledge, I wasn’t. If I wound up in any special file, it was one called “first timer - loves her kid”. Ryan thrived in Kindergarten and in every class, every year for his tenure at Mountain Park.
Bringing Sean to Kindergarten was a different experience. I cloaked myself in experience. I knew the drill. I tried to ignore the fact that I was bringing a TOTALLY different kid with unique needs and talents. But that was ok. The faculty and staff didn’t ignore that. The best teachers in the world met Sean where he was, for who he is, identified his ADD and got him help to give him the best chance at success. I didn’t have to do anything but trust them. Which I did. Wholly and completely.
Looking out at the yard sign is so much more, however, than an inventory of Ryan and Sean’s teachers (each of whom were truly extraordinary) while at Mountain Park. It is a remembrance symbol of all the growth and change that has transpired since that first day I walked in needing paper towels.
For example, on that day, I was in my thirties, I was a full time Mom and I was sure of a lot of things. I didn’t have an iPhone (because they didn’t exist), Kevin was a builder and my dog was my beloved, Lillian. I had no idea about the tearful thrill of spelling bee success (Ryan) and the tearful horror of early spelling bee defeat (Sean). (First timers who love your kids: beware of the spelling bee).
Today, I’m LATE into my forties. I work full time and I don’t know shit. I have two smart phones and a different house. Kevin’s building business and my beloved Lillian have died. But we have new things. Different things. Good things. Especially Bella.
But it isn’t just me that has evolved in these last ten years. When Ryan entered Kindergarten, Obama was president, we were carrying Blackberries and Oprah was still on TV. Epic events have occurred.
December 14, 2012. In Newton, CT at Sandy Hook Elementary School, 20 children and six staff members were fatally shot by Adam Lanza. At the time, Ryan was a third grader and Sean was in Kindergarten. I remember the news breaking while I was at work at Piedmont Hospital. I thought about those babies at Sandy Hook who got on the bus that morning with Christmas presents and expectations for a fun day. I thought about those staff members who went to work every day with love in their hearts for the students but never having ANY idea how that might be tested. I thought about how Sandy Hook could easily be Mountain Park or Roswell North or any other vulnerable place of innocence in the United States. I thought about the children who were on the airplanes that flew into the Twin Towers. My heart broke in an irreparable way. Evil exists in this world and it is indiscriminate. Seeing the families in Newtown and their pain has never left me, even six years later. Because I would be willing to bet a lot of those Moms and Dads were in a file labeled: “First timers - love their kid”.
January 27, 2016. Snowmageddon. I remember being at work that day and telling my boss that I thought we needed to send our staff home because the roads were getting bad. My boss, my friend, now admits she “poo-pooed” my concern. Canceling a patient visit after observing the worsening road conditions, I headed straight to Mountain Park to collect Ryan and Sean ( 5th and 2nd grade). It was a harrowing 1.7 mile drive home but we made it together and sat in front of a fire before sundown. Many parents in the city weren’t as fortunate, however. Hundreds of parents were stranded on highways and side roads unable to go anywhere and get to their children. A nightmare. Mountain Park, however, handled it with its typical love and calm. A few staff members and our wonderful principal stayed at the school - OVERNIGHT- until each student was picked up and safe.
As a community, we’ve had to endure loss and grief. In Ryan and Sean’s years at Mountain Park, we’ve lost too many students. Sweet Creed Campbell died in Kindergarten and is remembered in a beautiful mural outside the Media Center. Finn Dana died suddenly in fourth grade and has his own reading corner in the Media Center. Another tragedy when Tristan Shupbach, fifth grader, died before his performance as Captain Hook in 2017. Other schoolmates have battled cancer, lost parents and siblings and one has to ask why? I can only say that for both of my sons, their exposure to grief and loss, which are inevitable life lessons, has been handled at Mountain Park with the highest level of empathy and healing. For that I am infinitely grateful.
Many times, when I speak to patients and families about hospice care, which is the next step in their journey, I can be admittedly impatient when they resist what I think they need. I know there is good in the next step. I know there’s nothing left for them in the level where they are. I can be quick to put them in an “A-hole” folder and not one more appropriately labeled, “First timers”.
Mountain Park and my sons’ elementary school experience has been more special and life changing than I can possibly explain. I am beyond blessed by every single educator that encountered my sons and changed them for the better. I say that without hesitation. I have SINCERE gratitude for the Mountain Park leadership/ administration that fosters this environment and I thank you all for raising me.
Mountain Park Elementary School has been my special and safe place for the past ten years. Unfortunately, my stay there is coming to a close. Age and time wait for none of us. I’m no longer a “first timer” but I’m still in a folder of “loves my kids”.
Tonight, I am offering thanks to which I can’t put words for everyone at Mountain Park. But I am also extending kindness and empathy for everyone who feels scared to leave a place that has provided care. There’s no yard sign that can make that feel a whole lot easier.
And to be clear, May 24 is Sean’s “graduation” from Mountain Park. To my other Moms “in the feels”, come find me in the fetal position at the back of the playground. To my other deeply loved friends facing their own ‘next place’, I’ll come find you.