Ebb and flow - FamilyEducation

Ebb and flow

September 21,2010
Professor Mom
Aliki McElreath

Aliki is a writer and college English teacher. She lives in North Carolina with her husband, two children (ages seven and ten), a dog, a cat, a rabbit, and too many fish.

Every September L.'s school organizes a huge fall festival as a fundraiser. We've always appreciated how his school doesn't do those typical fundraisers: door-to-door popcorn sales, or coupon books. Instead, they put on this one festival in the fall, and a huge science festival in the spring. The fall festival has always been a favorite, of course. It features tons of games, "bucket" raffles, and a huge silent auction with lots of enticing gift baskets and prizes to choose from. This year's fall festival was L.'s last as a student at his school; this spring's science celebration will be his last one, too. Of course we can go back next year, when he's in middle school, but it will be different--of course it will. I tallied on my fingers how many fall festivals we've been to so far: six. I thought about that very first one, back when L. started kindergarten. We were so fresh and unscarred. We threw ourselves into volunteering for it, helping with the planning and the set-up and signing up to work three separate booths. We had a lot more energy back then, clearly, at the start of it all, this winding, broken, road. This year's festival found us exhausted and completely spent emotionally and physically. For the first time ever I hadn't even pre-bought the meal or game tickets ahead of time. I couldn't even remember which time slot I'd signed up for, and I'd lost the volunteer spreadsheet weeks ago. We drove in separate cars, since Scott came from a taxing day spent at L's school, and I came from a taxing day at work, with T. in tow. We stood out in the the sweltering late afternoon heat, watching the sea of kids buzzing around the field, and felt distinctly out-of-place, like cardboard-cut-out shadows of ourselves, rather than the real, flesh and bone versions. ******************* Friday, the night of the fall festival, also happened to be the premiere of L.'s favorite show. He's been counting down to it for weeks and weeks now. When he found out that the festival was the same night as Clone Wars he was in despair. It's okay, we rushed to tell him. The show started at 9:00, and we could leave by 8:00 and be home in time. "8:00 is too late!" he said. On Clone Wars nights, L. needs at least two hours to set the stage: an early shower, time to set up his Clone Wars action figures on the end table downstairs, time to prepare his special Clone Wars dessert (this Friday it was rice pudding), and time, of course, to revel in the glorious feeling of unbearable anticipation. We agreed, then, that we would leave the festival at 7:00 on the dot. Then L. took off with a wad of tickets in his pocket, and we only saw glimpses of him now and again for that next two hours. I felt like it was getting near time to go when Scott and I gave T. the last three game tickets so she could do the cake walk. We were standing there, watching her circle around and around to a tinny Owl City song when suddenly the DJ's voice boomed out from somewhere across the field: "Would Mr. and Mrs. M please report to the DJ booth. Your son needs you!" Scott and I looked at each other in horror. Was he hurt? Lost? Suddenly frightened? I stayed with T. and Scott took off in the direction of the DJ booth. When T. and I got there, L. was pacing and agitated, but two of L.'s teachers--his former 2nd grade teacher and his resource teacher, were smiling with Scott. They had heard the DJ's announcement and rushed over, worried too that something had happened to L. "What happened?" I asked. L. held his arm up right to my face and pointed to an imaginary watch on his wrist. "IT'S 7:00 THAT'S WHAT!" he yelled. He'd somehow found out the time, then interrupted the DJ to get us paged over the loudspeaker because, really, enough was enough, it was time to GO, already. And I wanted to burst out laughing and crying and laughing right there, for my funny, wonderful, intense, boy who just wouldn't--couldn't--let us be a minute later than we'd planned, for the teachers who rushed over to the DJ booth because they too cared about L., for the school we have loved and hated, and hated to love, (but never loved to hate), for that last fall festival, and the last spring one to come, for the strong and brave and innocent parents we used to be, and the strong and brave and slightly battered parents we are now, for that miserable, wrenching week that came before, and the unknown days that lay ahead--for the endings to come, and the beginnings, too. All of them.