August 24, 2017.
And so it is done. The last first day of walking to school. I can now say with some certainty what the distance is between kindergarten and 5th grade - astonishingly short.
We began this journey 6 years ago, but in some ways our innocence about the world then versus now seems so quaint. Newtown happened within a few months of our starting this journey. And with apologies to those who think these are good times, our current state in the world and at home is beyond anything I could have imagined, certainly in the kinds of role models our kids see on the news every night. The world seems harder and darker, with an edge of unknown dangers about it.
Things are different at home too. New attitudes and emotions color many moments of our family life, things that we knew long ago would come but for which we still don't feel ready. It is as we predicted one of those long nights very early in the new parent stage, looking down at this innocent newborn sleeping peacefully. I knew that we had roughly 9 years - to and hopefully through 4th grade - to really shape what kind of person she might be.
That time is up. Do I have influence still? Surely. But she is now her own person, strong-willed and talented, kindly and stubborn. A typical 10-year old in most ways. But a whole new level of challenge is arriving. One that every parent has to contend with, because it's a natural part of the process, and the only alternative to it is if something goes terribly wrong. Middle school looms less than a year away, and certainly adolescence will be a different phase. I'm nostalgic about the sweetness and innocence of so much of these last six years, but I can't stop or turn back the clock.
So now I too must evolve. Whether I want to or not. I hope that I am able to do so with some grace and humor, although I'm learning already that sometimes I'm not allowed to show any humor at key dramatic moments. The time of big sweeping course corrections has largely passed, and we learn to guide the journey as best we can in smaller but perhaps even more vital ways. It is no great help to be more aware of all of the world's myriad dangers to children than I would have been 10 or 20 years ago, as it simply adds an unhelpful urgency and fear to the job.
There will be many more first days of school, even if we no longer will walk together to get there. We are on the slow but inexorable path towards separation; when the fledgling outgrows the nest, the competition for space and resources sparks conflict, and ultimately the wings are tested, and off into the great wild the new adult soars. It is what we pray for, after all. They carry us into the future.
Onward then, up our gravel road, up the sidewalk, up to and through the final chapter of this childhood journey. Enjoying as many sweet moments as might remain. And the new ones that will come with the next journey too.