It's a sad day in the Muley household today. Sad not because of anyone's death or injury, or because of any financial setback or career-related tragedy, but sad because today is the last day that we have a child in elementary school.
We've had two children in elementary school, and it's hard to remember a time when we haven't been there dropping off or picking up, or attending kindergarten graduations, Christmas programs, open houses and parent-teacher conferences. There's lots of memories of making our daughters' day by buying a special lunch and bringing it up to them as we ate with them and their friends at the small little chairs in the cafeteria. I can remember me and Mrs. Muley being room parents, bringing up cookies and drinks for classroom parties, and even one time I was persuaded to sit down in a rocking chair and read a story to the eager group of little first graders gathered around me on the floor.
What's strange is that our 10-year-old daughter is quite sad to be leaving elementary school. Now, when I was a kid, I was always happy on the last day of school, no matter what milestone might have been passed. But both my daughter and her best friend have been somber and even teary-eyed this week when the subject of the impending end of school -- and the farewell to their elementary school days -- came up. A good friend and classmate of theirs is moving to another town in a few days, so that makes it even worse.
Yesterday, Mrs. Muley and I volunteered to take time off of work and be chaperones for the fourth grade end-of-year field trip. All the students went rollerskating at the rink here in Waco and had a blast. I decided that I didn't want to spend two hours just watching kids skate, so I strapped on a battered pair of inline skates and got out onto the floor. I'm sure my daughter was probably a bit embarassed, but she'll get over it.
Looking around at all the fourth graders yesterday, it really hit me how similar, but how different, they are from my classmates when I was in fourth grade in the late 1960s. They are the same in that, well, they act like fourth graders. They boisterous and loud, and overall very happy. That world-weariness and cynicism that starts seeping in somewhere in junior high has not affected them yet. It's possibly the last pure, unadulterated spring of childhood for many of them.
However, how different these kids are from the ones I went to school with. I looked around and saw a rainbow of skin colors and backgrounds. There were black and white students, students from Hispanic, Asian and Indian backgrounds, and even three young Muslim girls who wore head coverings as they skated around the rink joyously. In my elementary school, meanwhile, located in a upper middle class suburb of Houston, we were an almost totally lily white student body. There were no blacks whatsoever, and only a few Hispanic students before anyone ever used the word "Hispanic." Our one example of true multiculturalism was a blond-headed, blue-eyed boy who had moved here from England with his parents. The only place we would have seen a group of young children as diverse as that at my daughter's school in the late 1960s would have been in a Coke commercial.
So, time passes. We'll get used to it, as we always do, but if you don't take the time and notice the changes, even if that involves a little mourning, they're likely to pass you by much too easily and quietly.
FINAL THOUGHTS: If you ever happen to find yourself being with a large group of kids at a skating rink, make sure that when they are all told to take off their skates and return them to the desk that you don't happen to walk through them as they remove said skates. I did this, and the aroma of 120 kids airing their feet after two hours of intense exercise just about brought me down on the psychedelic carpet. A form of this airborne substance is probably among the biological weapons Saddam is suspected of once hiding.
Also, if you men out there want to take on a new and fairly unique physical challenge, try using a men's restroom while wearing a pair of inline skates. I have found that it's a bit of a challenge on a tile floor to navigate a urinal while eight wheels are where your ten toes normally are. You sort of end up just rolling slowly back and forth and hoping your aim is true.