On their last days attending school in the same buildings, I snapped these photos of my daughter and son. The left one shows her as a kindergartner and he’s in third grade. I snapped the photo on the right nine years later. She was a high school freshman. This was the last day of my son’s senior year. Where does the time go?
Unbeknownst to me, my son had kept his old elementary school backpack all these years, deep in the recesses of his messy closet. He’d gone and dug it out and wore it especially for this photo.
I still remember the day my son’s backpack arrived new. He was five years old then. Getting a backpack made him excited.
Eyes lit up, he asked, “It’s almost time for me to go to big boy school, right, Mommy?” He’d been counting the days until he could ride the big yellow school bus he saw driving by our house every day. I wasn’t so eager to say goodbye.
That first day he bounded to the bus wearing that blue and red backpack, my heart felt like it shattered into a million pieces. “See you soon, Mommy!” he yelled as he climbed the bus stairs, finally off on his big adventure. Somehow, he knew his mama’s heart couldn’t handle the word “goodbye.”
“See you soon” became our morning ritual.
Over the years, that blue and red backpack carried his school life back and forth to our home, often bearing witness to his scattered and forgetful ways. I lost count of the times I had to retrieve it from the school office or tripped over it in our mudroom.
Every school year, I asked if he wanted to replace his backpack with a new one. “Nope!” he said. “Everyone knows this backpack is mine.”
On their last day together in elementary school, I snapped that photograph of my son and daughter walking side by side. He’s carrying his third-grade homework in his trusty blue and red backpack; she’s donning the red sequined shoes she insisted on wearing every day. Back then, it seemed like prom and driving permits and high school romances were a long way off. On that bright spring morning, it seemed like we still had time.
Eventually, we replaced his blue and red backpack with a more grown-up version, but even in high school he still said, “See you soon, Ma!” as he hugged me before heading to school with his sister by his side.
Now, on the last day of his senior year, as I watched them leaving, his younger days no longer seemed so far away.
Where Did the Time Go?
I still remembered how his baby cheeks felt on my shoulder, softened and slack from a midnight feeding, his breath even and soft in the dark.
I heard the giggles and screeches of our bath and bedtime ritual and remembered him running wild and silly with his baby sister.
I heard tiny feet in footie pajamas padding in to whisper about a bad dream and needing snuggles.
I remembered the homemade Valentines he constructed for classmates on snowy afternoons while we snacked on hot cocoa and cookies.
I saw him drop his backpack on the floor of my mudroom, books and papers spilling out, as he rushed to grab a snack while telling me about his day.
I recalled the nights I dropped him off at theater practice for long hours of rehearsal on top of juggling AP classes and driving lessons.
My heart still panged remembering that first time he pulled out of the driveway with his sister in the passenger seat, on their way to school—the thrill of riding the yellow school bus long gone.
Late nights when I found him editing his latest film creation, long after he should have been sleeping, I remembered those, too.
That first time he put his arms around me for a hug and we realized he was officially taller than me? I’ll never forget it.
Then came the agony of his first heartbreak. And my bittersweet joy when he received his first college acceptance.
All Grown Up
Standing there in the school parking lot, watching my kids leave me, I suddenly realized that the next time my son says “See you soon,” we’ll be in his college dorm.
I wonder, where have the days of that yellow school bus gone?