Goodbye, Bugs! Hello, Leaves!

About a week before the last day of school, June started observing mournfully from time to time, “I’m not going to be a Bug any more.” Then we’d tell her how when school starts up again in September she will be a Leaf, how fun the Leaves teacher is, how her friends will be in her class, her old teacher will come visit, etc. The only comment she had about the change was “Not good!” I understand, I really do. Change can be hard for any of us and how much harder must it seem when the nine-month school year that just ended represents almost a quarter of her life and when she’s leaving the sweet and gentle Andrea, her first teacher, her whole idea of what a teacher is? (She rarely calls Andrea by name—she’s just “my teacher.”) I also know she’s going to be just fine in Leaves. Noah had Lesley when he was in Tracks (she teaches both the 3/4s class and the 4/5s class) and she’s a warm, creative teacher with a deep, intuitive understanding of children. Noah adored her.

The last day of school was Thursday and it was my turn to co-op. After it was over, I told Beth it was as if we got the first and last days of the school year reversed. All the clingy, weepy behavior we saw from other children in the first weeks and months of the school year June displayed on the last day. She’s been highly emotional and prone to tantrums all week, but in general June’s public persona is quite different from the personality we see at home. She’s usually calm and happy at school and while she does like to play with me, when I have a co-oping job to do she accepts that and plays independently or with other kids.

When we arrived Andrea had set up an obstacle course in Imagination Station and the children were running and hopping through it. June joined it. Eventually, though, some kids drifted off to other activities and a few others got the idea that the cones, domes and hula hoops could be put to other uses. June was aghast and started crying and trying to pull these objects away from other children so she could put them back where she thought they belonged. Andrea skillfully negotiated a compromise whereby most of the domes would stay on the course and the boy who wanted to line them up elsewhere could have a few for that purpose. When it was time to clean up, Andrea praised all the children for their efforts and told them they were acting like Leaves.

During Circle Time I slipped off to the kitchen to prepare snack. I could hear Andrea instructing the kids on how to sit as the Leaves do at Circle Time (along the perimeter of the rug instead of all over it). Then she talked to them about the Leaves class and how and all of them except the Grasshopper, who is moving to Seattle this summer, would be getting new symbols and returning as Leaves. “I will miss the Purple School,” the Grasshopper said. Then they sang the song they sing each morning, “Here We Are Together.” I thought about how it was the last time they would be all together as a class and that’s when I started to get choked up. June’s not the only one who is sad to see the Bugs class end.

I didn’t have long to wax nostalgic, however. I had the dishwasher to unload and the table to set and the water pitcher to fill and hummus and baby carrots to get into serving bowls and apricots to slice and place cards to put on the table. I discovered most of the glasses had been left dirty in the sink and I needed to hand wash them. I finished up just as the kids were filing into the room.

I didn’t really have time to think about where I was setting the cards and by coincidence all the three of the children with co-oping moms ended up at the same table, which meant they couldn’t all sit with their mothers. I sat at the other table. June didn’t like that so she came over and sat on my lap. I thought about it briefly and decided it was best to let her. After snack, June played happily with play dough and made rock gardens with pebbles and sticks and fabric flowers while I loaded the dishwasher. Every now and then she would run over to show me her creations. As time wore on, though, she wanted me to hold her and she also wanted to go outside and she got increasingly vocal about these desires. Andrea suggested she go watch the slide show of photographs of her class running on the computer in the hallway. There were a few other kids sitting down watching it already and I joined them.

While we were getting raincoats and boots and backpacks on to go out on the playground, June, who was standing next to me, started to scream. “What happened?” I asked. I hadn’t seen because I’d been helping another child. In perfect unison about a half dozen kids chorused, “So-and-So hit June!” I separated June and the other child, but in the rush of getting everyone out the door, I failed to talk them both through the incident as we’re supposed to.

Out on the playground, June stomped in the big puddle on the sand pit tarp with several other children. Then she went to the water table and gave a doll a bath. There were a few property disputes involving dolls and sponges but the Dragonfly’s mom and I managed to negotiate them pretty well, considering both of our daughters were involved, which can make it tougher.

All of a sudden, June realized she was soaking wet. She’d been wet for some time; her boots had filled with water while she was splashing in the puddle and her leggings were sodden halfway up her thighs. But now it was unbearable. I took off her boots and emptied the water onto the ground. I stripped off her socks and put them in my raincoat pocket. I slipped the crocs she’d been wearing inside onto her bare feet but almost immediately they were wet and sandy, too, so I spent most of the rest of the outdoor playtime carrying my weeping daughter around the playground. She was wet! She was sandy! She couldn’t take it anymore! I expected that dismissal would be emotional, but I was so preoccupied with managing June and with figuring out how to load the stroller with all the things we were bringing home—the bunny she insisted on bringing to school that day, her boots, her spare clothes, her journal, her paper and wood lantern, etc.—that I didn’t have much time to dwell on the fact that we were leaving our last Bugs Class.

At home, I removed her leggings and replaced them with sweatpants and dry socks. I made her grilled cheese and tomato soup for lunch and we watched Between the Lions, read some books and she went peacefully off to nap.

Beth got home from a business trip that evening and one of the first things June wanted to know was if she was still a Bug or not. Beth told her that when she put her lantern in the water the next night, she’d be a Leaf. The Lantern Launch is a cherished end-of-the-year tradition at the Purple School. All the children make lanterns and float them on Constitution Gardens Lake ( after a series of speeches by teachers and parents and after the teachers receive their class gifts and the children receive their goodbye gifts from the teachers.

Most years the Lantern Launch goes on rain or shine, and it’s kind of a running joke among parents that it always rains. It certainly did the year Noah attended the Purple School. We spent more time huddled under a tarp than outside it and even so, everyone got drenched. So, I was shocked (and pleased) when I checked my email around noon on Friday and found the Launch had been postponed due to unseasonably cold and seasonably soggy weather conditions.

That evening, we decided to attend the carnival at Noah’s school we’d thought we’d have to skip instead. It was being held inside due to the rain and it was crowded and hot and loud, but the kids had fun. Sasha found us almost immediately and he and Noah disappeared into the crowd holding hands to go explore the games. June got a teddy bear tattoo on her arm, won finger puppet for tossing a ball into a hoop floating in water and went on the bouncy castle (two times) with the Praying Mantis, whose brother is in kindergarten at Noah’s school. Everyone ate pizza and the kids got Starbursts and a good time was had by all.

Late Saturday afternoon we headed out for Constitution Gardens. We found our group and spread out our tarp with the rest of the families and picnicked on crackers and cheese and watermelon. Kids ran around and splashed at the water’s edge. I watched a pack of kids from the Tracks class dash over the bridge, swerving like a flock of birds, and I thought about how much more of a group mentality five years olds have than three year olds do. I tried to imagine June and her classmates two years from now, graduating from preschool. It’s hard to fathom, but I know that day will come and probably sooner than I think.

When it was time for the Bugs to receive their gifts from Andrea, June hung back, clinging to my leg. I think the idea of going up to Andrea with a big crowd looking on and clapping was intimidating, and I wondered if I would have to go with her, but I said, “Go on,” and she did. She looked delighted when Andrea gave her the little birdhouse with her hornworm symbol on it and she clutched the little book of monthly poems Andrea had recited to them every day at dismissal and the photo CD with pictures of all the children. (We’ve been reading the poem book and watching the photo CD over and over.) She allowed Andrea to hug her briefly, then ran away as fast as her little legs would carry her.

During the presentations for the older classes, the Bugs families converged to eat a goodbye cake for the Grasshopper, decorated with a guitar, because he loves music. I went back to the speeches during the Tracks class presentation and saw the children receive seedling evergreen trees. Lesley read a poem about how we plant the ship when we plant the tree and then said the Tracks were embarking on the great journey of education and she was glad to have taken the first few steps with them.

The launch is always beautiful. The colorful paper lanterns float on the water with its reflection of the Washington Monument; the children’s faces are intent on pushing their little crafts out onto the water and pulling them back with the attached string. In the invitation, Lesley explained that the lanterns symbolize how we launch our children out into the world, and then pull them safely back in.

When the bottom of June’s lantern touched the water, she asked Beth, “Am I a Leaf?” and Beth said she was.

Goodbye, Bugs! Hello, Leaves!

Bon voyage, Grasshopper and family.