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Voices from the Backseat

Goodbye, Southwood Glen
June 10, 2021

When we first moved to our neighborhood, I didn't even know where the local elementary school was. I knew that it was reportedly "good," that's why we moved here, after all. The more-experienced neighbor across the street mentioned that the school that Natalie, then two, would go to was only about a mile that way. Huh.

You have to seek it out. Truly a neighborhood school, Southwood Glen, is nestled in a neighborhood of ranch homes. It's not on a busy street. The kids use its back berm for sledding in the winter, and its parking lot serves as a shortcut for cutting between chunks of the neighborhood. The first time I pulled up for Kindergarten orientation, I noticed the smiling sunshine above the front doors. It was charming in a way that my century-old Catholic elementary school had not been. It wasn't meant to inspire or impress, but to welcome. Check.

I don't remember the other parents in that first meeting, huddled on the too-tiny chairs as we clutched our sheaves of paper. I was too nervous. If I could go back in time, I'd recognize faces that have since become fixtures in my life, friends and the kinds of neighbors who have truly been through it all with you. It is, after all, a neighborhood school, so you tend to run into the same people. Some of the parents were veterans, but there was a fair crop of oldest children among my own oldest's classmates. I'm sure that there were other parents there feeling the same feeling of being an interloper in an alien world.

Now, ten years later, my younger daughter is about to finish her final year at this place, with its red bricks and the garden that we planted with cuttings shared from families' yards and gardens. It's as familiar to me as almost any place. I have my favorite routes to and from, my favorite parking spot. I know where the second copier is, and where I can snag a cart from to carry in heavy items. I've decorated probably every bulletin board in the place and eaten countless plates of spaghetti on slightly-too-small lunch tables. It's a good place, filled with good people. I'm glad my daughters had their Southwood Glen family.

Before I dissolve into an utterly unsalvageable puddle of tears, here's a few tips and observations I'd like to share to mark the Kim-Bier family's departure from elementary school.

Fundraisers are different at public schools. At one of my first PTA meetings, I sat in the outer ring, listening to the seasoned parents in the middle discuss an upcoming fundraiser. I leaned to the woman next to me and asked about whether there'd be wine, too, or just beer. She laughed and explained that there was a strict no alcohol rule in public school buildings. This seemed astonishing to my parochial school-reared self. How else were the parents expected to not just attend but survive an event with a gymful of sugared-up kids? After ten years of non-parochial spring carnivals and fall fests, the answer is: barely. Just, barely.

Always pack the change of clothes. My kid is thoroughly toilet trained, you'll think. But then they'll get really, really excited about the game that the gym teacher describes. My kid's not a puker, you'll think. Let me tell you: they make that orange sawdust stuff to sprinkle on vomit in industrial size containers for a reason.

Kids can lose a single boot. I've been the mom who collected the unclaimed lost and found items for the district rummage sale. In addition to leaving behind single pieces of footwear, children somehow went home without their pants and seemingly brand-new coats. And 32 thousand stray gloves.

Enthusiastic singing wanes around fourth grade. I love an elementary choir concert. I cheer embarrassingly loudly for all of them. I love finding the super shy Kindergartener, and then the prima donna, and the boys wearing tiny three piece suits to sing Santa Claus is Comin' to Town. I'm sorry, girls, but your mother will continue to be a mortifyingly loud fan of the youth arts. I've also learned the full-throated, devil-may-care singing seems to wane at about the fourth grade.

Nurture is important, but nature usually shines through. I always volunteered to help in the classroom. I'd do whatever I was assigned, but I always loved the tasks that allowed me to interact with the kids. Teacher friends have confirmed my observation that you can correctly sort out what the kids' personalities will be like well into adolescence by observing a Kindergarten classroom. For example, my youngest was finding lost souls to help out during "build a gingerbread house" day in Kindergarten, and my oldest had already coined her catchphrase: "just because it's a bad idea doesn't mean you won't have fun." So, yeah. The Kindergarten teacher knows.

Elementary teachers are saints. The good ones become friends for life. And the intense bond between student, parent, and teacher is unique to elementary school. I'll miss it. I already miss all of you teachers, you know who you are.

Make friends with the secretaries and the custodial staff. The secretaries know everything about those kids. There were many times that I'd call with a situation, and Tricia or Stephanie would find the solution. They serve as surrogate nurses, shoulders to cry on, and the true brains of the operation. And the custodial staff? Did I mention the puke sawdust? Plus the multiple extra events set up and torn down, and the true affection and pride they have in those kids. And they can hook you up with any piece of equipment you might need. In medicine, you are wise to make friends with the nurses. In elementary parenting, the same is true of the secretaries and custodians.

Perfect your pickup line technique.  It took me awhile to perfect the carpool technique. It's been worth it. Let's keep it moving, folks! (But if the car ahead of you isn't moving, it's entirely possible that the driver is napping and a light tap-tap on the horn is all that's needed.)

Naps in said pickup line are a true pleasure. Please see above. I get there early for a reason. Power naps.

The days are long, but the years fly by. My daughter's at school right now. She took the neighborhood carpool to school this morning, her last time riding in Miss Vicky's coveted shotgun seat, reserved for the oldest in the group. Even though it's not my day, in an hour I'll go and line up in the pickup line. I'll be early, like always, in order to try for a nap. I expect that the lump in my throat will prevent me from dozing off, though. Pretend not to notice my tears if you see me, and forgive me if take a little longer getting on our way this one, last time.

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