The Last First Day of School Ever…

Today is the beginning of the end.  Sounds grim, huh?  Well, it sort of is.

J started his last year of school this morning.  I made sure to remind him that he is to have as much fun, learn as much, enjoy as much, grow as much as possible from today until the end of May 2016 because then school will be over for him.  He looked at me as if part of him understood, and as if part of him just wanted to dash out the door for the bus.

Yesterday we started talking about today very early.  J was happy for the greater part of the morning; he listened to his classical music, smiled and chilled out for a long time…and then he got taciturn and moody in the afternoon.  Our guess is that he was happy school would be back in session while realizing that some of his classmates moved on last year and wouldn’t be there.

Transitions aren’t easy for people in the Spectrum.  Any change in routine comes with a healthy dash of caution attached to it; parents tend to overanalyze, worry, plan, cross fingers, knock on wood, and so on and so forth.  We’re not just thinking about how WE will deal with an upset child; we are thinking of the upset child.

I had long considered I would slowly introduce the idea of “this is the last year of school!!!!”  This morning I decided I’d be blunt; I decided to go with the same candor that I use on the kids’ birthdays: you will only be this age once…relish it!  Well…this is the last year…make the most of it…

Nostalgia, of course, hits me.  I remember the many first days of school, and how this particular one seemed such a long way off.  I remember TGG’s First Day of School, and I remember his First Day of College…and now he’s had Another First Day of College (and this time I think he means it.)  I remember J’s First Day of School, and every First Day of School after that one.  If at one time he wasn’t thrilled, J grew to love school…to be excited about going…to look forward to it…to dread the long lulls between end-of-school and summer-school.

This, obviously, is the time of year when people proudly display pictures of their kids dressed up for the First Day of School.  Kids in uniforms; kids in kicky outfits; kids driving their hand-me-down car; kids getting their Class Rings; kids transitioning from grade school to middle school, from middle school to high school, and kids leaving for college.  It is a joyous time of year regardless of how it ultimately unfolds academically, socially, athletically, extracurricularly…  The beginning of the school year always smells of possibility, of the future, of progress…

Over here it smells of the beginning of the end, and it’s not a nasty smell.  It’s just a sad smell.  Or, rather, a bittersweet smell.  Once the School Year 2015-2016 is done, school is done.  There’s no college; there’s no vocational training; there’s no buying school supplies, singing the Bus Song…  We reach the end of a road and we don’t have a map to guide us any further.

OK…the truth is I’m sad.  This is the apex, the climax, the swan song of J’s school years, and it sort of says “well, your productive, intellectually-absorbent years are over, kid.”  I know J has a boatload of potential, but I know the rest of the world doesn’t necessarily see it that way (even if they don’t come right out and say it.)  The truth is that the system can only do so much, and the corollaries of the system are equipped to do just a little more.  Both resources are overtaxed as is, and there is a (quiet, secretive, resentful) sector of society that says “WHAT are we supposed to do?  These kids/adults/people are not our problem.  Let the families deal with it.  We can’t carry them forever!!!”

It’s absolutely true.  The school system can only provide services for J until a certain point, and when he moves on it is to make room for others like him who will move up the ranks until there’s no more ranks to move up through.  That’s the way of the world.  I accept that, and I know that much progress has been made by J, and that people have put their hearts and souls into helping him.

But I can still be sad, can’t I?  I can be sad (even if it is a little stupid because I’ve always known) that this is it.  That this is where we get off the train and stay at this particular station.  I can be sad that there is no college, no parties, no Big Game, no tailgating, no college friends, no college sweetheart…  I guess, in some stupid and totally ridiculous way, I am mourning that I don’t get to see my son finish high school and move on to be…someone else?

Of course, I am also mourning the Empty Nest I’ll never have, and I foresee a lot of work in my silver and golden years.  I will miss out on Me-Time, and being a Happy Go-Lucky Empty Nester.  I will have to find time, once school is over and done with, to still be me in spite of J’s constant presence.  But I knew that already, and I’m sort of ready for it all…sort of, but not quite, not yet…

Getting there, though.  That speech this morning was as much for me as it was for J.  Take advantage.  Seize the day.  Enjoy the last year of rushing home to sit with a book while sipping tea on cold winter mornings, going for walks with the camera and immortalizing autumn leaves, napping for 20 minutes after finishing chores, taking a long shower and leaving the conditioner in for as long as the bottle suggests…

It was our Last First Day of School Ever…time to go wait for the yellow bus!