As the school year comes to a close, I find myself already mourning the imminent loss of one of my daily highlights: Pick up. Not the blur of traffic or the press of time urging me into the line-up, or the assortment of tennis rackets, bun-makers, granola bars and sheet music I've tossed in the back seat awaiting the after-school onslaught of activities. Not that. What I will miss is the "theatre" that plays out for me within the microcosm that is my children's school playground.
In true parental-voyeur style, I do this observing discreetly from the driver's seat of my car -- gazing out through a window smudged with fingerprints from this morning's yogurt-on-the-go -- with the yard's chain link fence -- a dramatic curtain -- surrounding the stage beyond. Green tea latte in hand, I am witness to it all from the front row.
I have been hooked on this show for years - -10 years. And as my daughter will join her brother at the Junior-Senior High School in September -- a place where pick up is brief and accompanied only by the sound of a car door shutting and a "Hi Mom," with no color beyond a grunt about homework -- and void of social insights -- I know the days at my theatre are numbered. This will be the final run.
I find myself looking forward more than ever to the shrieks and giggles, the chatter and hum. The chaotic noise and endless motion are a balm and soothe me like familiar friends each time my car sidles up to the school and I ease into my lookout post. It is not only where I am entertained by tether ball, soccer, football and tag, by gymnasts and hop scotch and skipping exhibitions, by the drama of personalities clashing and emotions not yet under control -- but it is where I, a type of Jane Goodall, have had the privilege of learning through observation what is really happening to my children at school: Who they are when they are not in the shelter of our home or under the checks and controls of their sports, hobbies and structured play. This is a social planet where I have watched them grow and out-grow. I have read the expressions on their faces without hearing the words exchanged and seen them fill with joy or confusion, hurt or silliness. I have smiled proudly as I watched the occasions when my son and daughter played together despite the collection of other kids available. I have sat on the edge of my car seat watching my daughter standing alone stinging with heartache as she realized her BFF had found a new BFF.
And now my 12-year-old is in her last days at the bubble of Elementary school with its monkey bars, swings, spinning cups and patchy grass field, preparing for the move to the Jr.-Sr. High school with its vast football field and students who drive. What I see is a little girl with skinny long legs sprouting above her grey knee highs tossing her backpack onto the grass.
I watch a cluster of boys, their football in hand, lope awkwardly across the field to chat with her as she turns a string of front walkovers. It is a quintessential "bees to honey" scene. It is sweet and natural. It is heartbreaking. And I have been privy to seeing it. Perhaps then, she is ready for the next act.
I already feel how much I will miss it -the playground -- my children's tiny voices and carefree play. There will be a new cast of children coming next fall. But for now, with the sun pouring through the windshield and my latte growing cold, I soak in the warm rays and the innocence of childhood playing out before me -- hoping I can hold this fleeting moment forever. Alone in my car, I give a soft round of applause.