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The Speed of Time

Reflecting on my daughter's first year of school and what it's taught me about the passing of time.

Yesterday afternoon my daughter popped in a DVD that her Kindergarten teacher sent home. It was a video slide show, set to music, that captured moments from the entire school year. As Ella watched, her and her friends transformed from fresh faced babies into tall and lanky children, all in a matter of minutes. With each picture Ella would call out, "There's Pate!" or "That's Ms. Mercier!" or "Look at Mackenzy's face!" She took genuine joy in the reminiscence and when the video was done, she quietly asked if she could watch it again.

Since her brother was in the middle of a fevered coughing fit, I - grateful for something to keep her occupied - hit the play button again.

It took less than thirty seconds for the tears to start. One second, Ella is sitting there with a smile on her face; the next, she's a puddle of tears and blubber. The transformation was startling, but so too was the realization that my six year-old was caught up in the powerful emotion known as nostalgia. A six year-old. Nostalgic. For a school year that wasn't even officially over.

If her brother had been well, I would've lingered on that thought a moment longer, would've allowed it to blossom in my mind. Instead I hit "Stop" on the DVD remote and said, "You're brother's falling to pieces because he's sick, Ella. I can't have you falling to pieces because of some video. We'll watch this again another time; why don't you see if you can find something else to do?"

I know. Heartless. But you're not holding a coughing, feverish three year-old and wondering whether or not you need to head to the nearest pediatric emergency room.

Ella did go find something else to do: she started writing a note to her teachers, telling them how much she loved Kindergarten, how much she loved them, how much she would miss them over the summer and how she would promise to come see them once first grade began. She tore the note from her little binder, brought it to me for my editorial eye, and then announced that she would like to take it to school with her for her teachers.

"You can't," I said.

"Why?" she asked.

"Because tomorrow is the last day of school."

"That's why I need to take it tomorrow. Because I won't see them any more after."

"But you can't take anything with you to school tomorrow - not a book bag, not a lunchbox, nothing."

Ella frowned. "I can take a sack lunch. Ms. Mercier said so. So I can take the paper."

I sighed. "No, you can't. The reason you're not allowed to take anything to school is because the school board doesn't want students throwing paper out of the bus windows."

"But I wouldn't throw this out of the bus window. I would give it to Ms. Mercier."

"I understand that, Ella, but the school board doesn't. They don't know that you're a sweet girl who follows the rules."

She smiled. "I can just tell them."

"You don't know enough about the government to know how funny what you just said really is."

The conversation went on until Rachel stepped in and explained that, while Ella couldn't take the note with her to school, she could type the note up in an email and send it to her teachers that way. Ella loved the idea, and I asked me to help her. I gave Jon to Rachel and took Ella to the computer. I opened a new email and typed in Ella's teacher's address. Then Ella slipped into my office chair.

"I got this," she said.

And she did. With the exception of me showing her how to use the space bar and the shift key (for capitalizing letters), Ella banged out the entire email on her own, one finger hunting for each letter like an archaeologist brushing dirt off rare antiquities. When she finished (she typed her name in all caps so the teachers "would know it's me who signed it"), I hit send and the email vanished. Ella beamed with pride.

Then she teared up again. "I'm going to miss being a Kindergartener."

"Why?"

"Because it's all I know how to be!"

I hugged her. "I know how you feel, Ella, but if you'll remember, you didn't even know how to be a Kindergartener when school started this year. But you learned, honey, and you learned well. I mean, you just sent an email to your teacher that you wrote and typed yourself! You don't have to be afraid. Or sad."

She wiped her nose on my shirt. "But I like being a Kindergartener. It's fun."

"I know. But any learning can be fun if you make it fun."

"Promise?"

"Well, maybe not Algebra. Or Statistics. But for the most part, yes. I promise."

She made a face. "What is Stabisitics?"

"Don't worry about it. It comes much later in your school career."

She seemed satisfied with my answers, and that was pretty much the end of our talk. This morning, as I walked her to the bus stop for the final time this year, I reflected on just how much she's grown; she reads at a near second-grade-level, loves to write notes in her journals, draws pictures with much more clarity and detail. Even watching her walk, I was taken back by how mature she seemed. She's taller than when school started, and her hair's longer - in fact, she was so excited to be able to pull it into a side-ponytail for the last day.

"Just like the older girls do," she explained.

In a couple of hours, I'll have a Kindergartener no longer. The speed of time is exponentially increasing on me, and I'm just coming to grips with the fact that I can't slow it down, not when a quick glance at Facebook reveals former students who have been married seven years, former students who are on their third baby, former students who have just gotten engaged, not to mention the students who are just graduating this year, whom I first met when they were barely the age Ella is now. It all reminds me that this is what life is: a continual progression, a relentless march forward.

And it's meant to be savored.

So when my first grader steps off the bus this afternoon and plants that first foot solidly into her summer break, I'll grab her in a huge hug and say, "Let's go do something fun. What do you say?"

Hopefully, because time is short and precious, she'll say, "Yes!"

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Jason Brooks May 24, 2012 at 01:32 AM
Ella's wonderful teacher - Deb Mercier - and parapro - Valerie Figueriedo - both emailed Ella back and thanked her for the sweet email, even offering to spend time with her this summer if we could work it out. Ella plans to email them back in the morning. She was quite excited. And we watched the DVD again tonight. Tears. Again. This has been a tough day for my little girl.
Karen May 24, 2012 at 12:15 PM
When you blink next, it will be time to move her into a college dorm. Great post, I enjoyed reading it. My only child - daughter, is a "second year" at Georgia Tech (they use those terms - 1st year, 2nd year, etc down there). I will move her into an apartment this semester and it is hard to think about. Ella sounds amazing and you and your wife must be doing a great job. Keep up the good work. I love how she is so independent and thoughtful.
Jason Brooks May 24, 2012 at 01:33 PM
Karen - Thanks for the comment, and the stomach roll. I don't even want to think about my daughter being second year anywhere, let alone Georgia Yech (sorry, I'm a UGA grad). And my daughter is pretty amazing, though that has far more to do with her mother than me, I assure you. :)
Vanita McGough May 24, 2012 at 11:36 PM
Awww!! Ella is such a sweet little girl and I am so happy you guys had such a great year! I know Deb loved every minute with Ella!! : ) Have a great summer! Tell Ella that Mrs. McGough says hi!

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