Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

School’s Out For Summer


There are lots of ways to be reminded of the passing of time. The holidays are always a big reminder for me: the traditions, the family visits, the ringing in of a new year. For a long time, the beginning and end of a school year were pretty pronounced markers of time passing. Then I finally finished school and, for a few years, “summer break” and “back to school shopping” meant nothing to me. Now I have kids, one of whom just finished his first year of public school (universal pre-k for the win!) and time, again, seems to be picking up speed, if for no other reason than there are more ways in my immediate world to recognize the passing of it.


Next week, my baby turns one. There’s another marker. In the weeks and days before her birth, I was so anxious — so worried about the labor being as traumatic as my first one and the weeks following being as challenging as they were the first time I brought a new baby home. It wasn’t and they weren’t. We’ve had some moments, but, for the most part, this year with Baby Joanie has been a dream, and it’s bittersweet to see it come to an end, just as it was bittersweet to pick up her brother from his pre-k class yesterday for the last time, watching the kids say good-bye to each other and their teachers. I cried a little. Jackson did not.


Even though he LOVED his class and his classmates and his teachers and everything about school (Monday mornings are his favorite time because: school!) and even though some of his best friends will be moving this summer, he did not cry. He was focused on the special lunch I promised him after pick-up (a pizza party with some of his friends) and then the playground after that and then first day of summer camp this morning. He’s going to camp three days a week this summer and he’s been so excited. On our walk to camp this morning — it’s a much longer walk than our quick walk to school — he sang the whole way, and he talked about the field trip they’re going on today. And then we got to camp and we walked up the flights of stairs to his classroom and we met his counselors and some of the other kids and I put his lunch in the lunch pile and his thermos in the thermos pile and his towel and change of clothes in the cubby marked “Jackson” and, when I turned around, he looked at me and his face crumbled and he cried and cried. I think it finally hit him: things are changing. (Which is really what the passing of time is, isn’t it?)

It broke my heart to see in his face the same thing I feel in myself so often: fear of the unknown and the realizations that things can change on a dime, that we can’t control everything, that our comfort zone only extends so far, that, despite having family and friends and a community, we still travel this world alone; there’s not one person who will be with you through everything, and, even at four years old, there will be times when you find yourself among people who are all strangers to you. It’s a lonely feeling, and it’s one that’s particularly hard to see reflected in your young child’s face. I want to spare him — and Joanie — all the loneliness and sadness and hurt and fear they’re going to feel in their lives. But that’s not my job. My job is to guide them through those feelings and to give them a soft place to land on the other side.

I hugged him and reminded him of the field trip he was looking forward to later in the day and the counselors he met over spring break who would be there with him and how he’d make lots of new friends and that next week an old friend would be joining him there. But he kept crying and looking at me like I was a traitor. Like, “How could you leave me here? Where I don’t even know these people?” He wanted to be back at school, in his classroom with his friends and his teachers and everything familiar and comfortable to him. I could see it in his face. And it broke my heart not just because I love him and I hate to see him upset, but also because I know that pang and I know it will come again and again over the course of his life, because life means change and the passing of time and the beginnings of things and the ends of things, and all of that is hard.

Time always passes at the same pace, but it can certainly feel suspended or sped up in different circumstances. As a parent, I have experienced so many hours that have seemed to drag on and then, suddenly, a year has passed and one kid is finishing school for the summer and the baby is turning one and Simone the cat is about to turn seventeen and my dad will be 70 and I’m two months away from turning 40 and it’s like, “Holy hell, how did all that happen? Wasn’t I just moving in to my freshman dorm last month?” And here I am, trying to shepherd my kids through these life transitions, the passing of time, and I don’t always handle them myself so gracefully.

“Seventy-two days until you can go back to school,” I told Jackson yesterday. He’s always been so obsessed with dates and numbers and structure, and I think giving him a count-down — 72 more days — provides him with some sense of comfort, making an abstract idea (time) a little more concrete. But I’m beginning to wonder if that might be doing him a disservice. Maybe, instead of focusing so much on the passing of time (or time, in general), we would both be better off focusing on this moment, right here.

Just kidding.

Seventy-one more days ’til school starts back up. The countdown has begun.

16 comments… add one
  • Addie Pray June 29, 2016, 1:31 pm

    “And it broke my heart not just because I love him and I hate to see him upset, but because I know that pang and I know it will come again and again over the course of his life, because life means change and the passing of time and the beginnings of things and the ends of things, and all of that is hard.” ….
    Tears and smiles at the same time – thanks Wendy!

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  • blink14 June 29, 2016, 1:42 pm

    I was a camp counselor for 4 and 5 years old for many summers. After the first few days, most of them were over their nervousness or being homesick, and by the end of the week, it was rare to have a kid still upset to come to camp. They all settle into being friends and looking forward to activities different from the ones they were doing in school.

    Sounds like he will be swimming? Try to keep up with the lessons he learns during the year, we’d have a lot of kids who were in our group for a second year as 5 year olds, and they’d lose some of the skills they’d learned the summer before.

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    • Dear Wendy June 29, 2016, 6:55 pm

      Thanks for your insight. Jackson said he cried a little bit today because he missed me but that he wants to go back to camp tomorrow, so I’ll take that as a positive sign.

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      • blink14 June 30, 2016, 8:44 am

        Definitely! I had probably 100+ kids come through my group and I can really only think of a few who never adjusted well, and it was either because of family issues like divorce or they hadn’t been to preschool, so it was a huge change for them.

        I really enjoyed being a counselor, especially with the little ones. We spent a lot of time getting to know each one individually and creating a bond with them so they felt secure at the camp.

  • honeybeenicki June 29, 2016, 2:12 pm

    This is so sweet. We were just talking about time this morning because its my cousin’s daughter’s first birthday… which means our tiny human is turning 1 in just 16 days. Its insane. He his own obnoxious little person who loves to terrorize animals, pull things out of drawers, dance, and give giant open-mouthed kisses (honestly? I always thought those were so gross. Its still gross, but kinda sweet coming from him). Time has gone so fast. After dealing with colic and counting down the days to end my maternity leave, I’m a little sad to be at work every day so I do my very best to live in the moment.

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  • YS June 29, 2016, 2:50 pm

    Just beautifully written. You have me fighting tears at my work desk. I just came back after nursing my baby at daycare and reflecting on how his older brother was just a baby and all that. Thanks for such powerful writing.

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  • girltuesday June 29, 2016, 3:07 pm

    Beautifully written, Wendy! I’ve been lurking since Jackson was a little one, and he is growing into such a handsome boy. You’ve got some cuties on your hands 🙂

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    • Dear Wendy June 29, 2016, 6:52 pm

      Thank you! Of course, I think they’re pretty cute, but I’m just a little biased.

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  • Samba June 29, 2016, 3:31 pm

    Even though there’s been other recent pics, I can’t believe how big and how much like “real people” (I hope that doesn’t sound insane) Jackson and Joanie look here!! You really got some cute kids Wendy.

    I can’t imagine how terrible it feels to watch your kid go through that, when we all know exactly what that feeling of being out-of-your-element and new is like. I hope he starts having fun and enjoying himself quickly and forgets all about it!

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  • theotherbarb June 29, 2016, 5:13 pm

    Oh, that was just swell, and so true. Just yesterday a friend posted a song video on Facebook that was SO perfect, even – or maybe especially – for us old folks who have already watched this go by. Couldn’t find her post today – but here it is on YouTube (I hope it is still there!):
    Get out the tissues….

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  • Anonymousse June 29, 2016, 5:49 pm

    Thank you for sharing such poignant moments in your life with us, Wendy. This was beautifully written.

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    • Dear Wendy June 29, 2016, 6:55 pm

      Thank you!

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  • jottino June 29, 2016, 7:29 pm

    I love when you write responses to readers’ letters, but I really LOVE when you just write. So great! 🙂

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  • Hannanas June 30, 2016, 8:38 am

    “I want to spare him — and Joanie — all the loneliness and sadness and hurt and fear they’re going to feel in their lives. But that’s not my job. My job is to guide them through those feelings and to give them a soft place to land on the other side.” – Thank you for this. Brought tears to my eyes, though.

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  • Taylor June 30, 2016, 11:08 am

    Oh Wendy, this was so beautifully written. My daughter is 2.5 now, and with all the lovely things that I hope life has in store for her, my heart breaks when I think of her out in the world. She’s so, I don’t know, shiny now. And loved, and safe. I know she has to go out there sometime, but man, I get the trying to spare them.

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  • Heather July 1, 2016, 10:22 pm

    Well put Wendy! My son is 5. We spent a week at a cabin Up North in WI. He’d been so excited about it but then he cried so much the 2nd day because he was missing the puppy & his room & all that was familiar. My heart hurt for him then and for all the times to come. Thanks for putting what I feel into eloquent words.

    Have a happy 4th with the party, kids & family!

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