The last day of school always catches me by surprise. So does the first day actually, but the routine is familiar and it doesn’t take long to get into the groove. Before I know it, it’s Christmas, and then spring break.
After that, the days gather speed until another year has passed. In the blur of final exams, recitals and sports, my children make a leap and I’m left with the bags of school papers, broken crayons and assorted hats and mittens they found stuffed in their desk.
This year, the last day was worse than usual. My son left home furious because, according to him, he would be the only student whose parents were abusive enough to make him go to school on the last day.
My daughter overslept, missed the bus and had to be driven to school. She stormed out of the car and into the building without a backward glance.
My youngest child sat quietly in the back seat and rode out the storm. When I delivered her to school, she hopped out of the car and trotted up to the front door, her backpack bobbing up and down. She turned around to smile at me and wave one last time before she disappeared inside.
I drove home and tried to work but I was restless and couldn’t focus. I was worried about my son, and couldn’t stop thinking about my 14-year-old daughter.
Our “welcome summer” tradition on the last day of school has been to go to the Milk Bottle on Garland for a celebratory lunch. In the past their friends have been invited and we were a rolling party of noisy, hungry kids.
This year, the teenagers all had something better to do, something that didn’t include me, so I found myself with only one child. The little third-grade graduate.
We ordered our usual cheeseburger special and while we waited for our food we talked about important things like who her teacher might be next year, and how much homework fourth-graders had.
Suddenly, she put her head down, hiding her face in her arms.
“Are you crying?” I asked. She just shrugged without lifting her head.
“What is it?”
She didn’t say anything for a minute then turned her head to the side. She looked up at me with large tear-filled hazel eyes, and a serious face — with exactly 28 freckles scattered across the bridge of her nose — and said, “I’m schoolsick.”
It’s funny how we can take words, like Playdoh, and squeeze them into new shapes. If her brother or sisters had said the same thing, it would have meant they were sick of school, sick of being told what to do and when to do it, sick of lessons and projects. Just sick of it all.
But she was heartsick because the school year was ending and weeks without the teacher she loved, and the comforting daily routine, were stretching out in front of her. She was bereft.
When our food arrived we stopped talking. She drank the milkshake first, then ate the fries one at a time, and finally a bite or two of the hamburger. By the time we finished, she was cheerful and chatty, full of plans for the summer.
We drove home, and I thought about the future. There aren’t many “hamburger parties” left before she’ll be too busy to celebrate with me. And I may never hear the word “schoolsick” again. Not in a good way, anyway.
That night, I kissed her and tucked her into bed. Then I walked into my room and looked into the mirror. “I’m childsick,” I told my reflection. And I understood exactly what I meant.