Wednesday, September 05, 2007

The apple

Today is one of those days that I have been looking forward to with equal parts of anticipation and dread since before I even gave birth to Julia. Today is my baby girl's first day of kindergarten.

She won't be there, of course. She's 3700 miles away from the classic brick building that I used to picture her marching proudly into, backpack and lunch box in hand. While her peers back home enter the hallowed halls of the "big kid school" which we used to wave at every time we drove past it, she'll be playing with her younger brother today and enjoying her last day of summer holiday. Tomorrow, she'll follow a different back-to-school ritual, racing down a London street on her scooter and completely ignoring my pleas not to mess up the perfect pleats of her starched uniform until she's at least entered the school building. She'll walk into her new classroom an experienced Year One student, not a tentative kindergartener. She'll greet old friends and settle easily back into the rhythm and routine of the school day, secure in the knowledge that she's done this all before already. I won't cry or feel wistful as I see her off; after all, I've done this before, too.

Julia will never have all of the pomp and circumstance of an American child's first day of kindergarten. The timing of our move and the difference in academic age guidelines inadvertently robbed me of my parental right to celebrate and mourn this rite of passage and the passage of time. I'm certain that the first day of a British child's reception year is an equally bittersweet milestone here, but we somehow missed even that experience, arriving here as we did a week into the school year last September. There was a scramble to find a school, a flat, an overpriced uniform. When the pieces all finally fell together, we breathed a sigh of relief and hurriedly dropped Julia at her new school before racing to meet the estate agent and pick up the keys to our new home. That she was embarking on a new stage in her academic career felt far less notable than the fact that we had managed to find her a school place at all. By the time we knew what had hit us, Julia had already adjusted and the milestone was behind us. Too late by then to cry tears of pride and wonder at how the time had flown.

There is a tradition in our New Jersey hometown that all incoming kindergarteners receive wooden apples with their names on them at orientation. They wear these apples around their necks on the first day that they enter school, and then again over their graduation gowns on the day they leave the system 13 years later. I've loved the idea of that tradition since the first time I heard of it... loved what it signified about small town living and loved that we were raising our kids in a community which fostered these kinds of traditions. I couldn't wait to see Julia get that apple at 5, smiled to envision her wearing it again at 18.

Things rarely work out the way we expect that they will, and I don't have a kindergartener with an apple around her neck today. Despite the fact that Julia was born into that community and will likely live the majority of her years there, I won't have an apple-adorned high school graduate 13 years from now. Those images which I so looked forward to will never exist except in my imagination.

This London experience is worth far more than a wooden apple, of course. Instead of the continuity an apple's presence on Julia's graduation gown would have signified for me, its absence will be a reminder of our time here and the unexpected and special path our lives took during these years. I'm sure that the sight of her unadorned gown will be every bit as powerful at symbol for me as the apple would have been. And truly, I wouldn't want it any other way, wouldn't wish these years away for all the apples in America.

But just for today, I'm felling a little bittersweet about the life that we're not living and the things that we've sacrificed for what we now have. I'm picturing all of Julia's American friends proudly marching off to school for the first time with their apples around their necks. I'm picturing the photo which I always assumed I'd take of a 5 year old Julia on the front step of our house early one September morning. And I'm wishing that I had one of those silly apples to drape over Julia's British school uniform tomorrow, if only for the picture that I'll take on the front stoop which isn't narrow of the house that isn't yellow on the first day of the 2007-2008 school year.

7 Comments:

Blogger Kristy said...

Sending you big hugs and a virtual apple across the atlantic today.

4:26 PM  
Blogger Gina said...

Sweet, sweet thoughts, Mom.

5:20 PM  
Blogger Steph said...

Aw, beautifully spoken, or written rather. Big hugs from here too.

5:43 PM  
Anonymous C said...

At least you won't need to keep track of the damn apple for 13 years...

There was not all that much pomp and circumstance. Well, except for the school band playing as the kids marched into school (yes, really).

Big hugs though. C was very much missing Julia today...

8:39 PM  
Blogger Patois said...

That was such a touching post. Now, chin up like a true Brit, please.

11:25 PM  
Blogger Iota said...

That was a lovely post. You've missed out but you've gained. I'm sure you won't regret your time in London, as you say, but that's not to say there isn't some loss too.

I don't think children see things in the same way, though. I felt they had been a bit short-changed on Christmas, as we arrived here on Dec 6th, and only moved into our rental accommodation on Dec 20th (staying with a friend of a friend in the meantime). But unprompted, they said it had been the best Christmas ever. Julia seems to take things in her stride, and if being in London has helped her develop that skill, it will stand her in very good stead.

8:01 PM  
Blogger Vegas Princess said...

This post was so touching and made me teary thinking of the moments missed when other different ones arise. Life is like that sometimes. But maybe...there is a friend back home who could tuck an apple away for Julia? It may not be exactly the same but it would be something...

4:26 AM  

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