I have sent out a version of this letter for the past many years. Each time I reread it, I’m reminded of how relevant it continues to be for me and my family, and hopefully you will find something in it that speaks to you, whether it’s the first time you’ve read it or the second or third. This year, as I look forward to celebrating the 30th birthday of my younger daughter, I am struck once again by the universality of the struggle with endings and beginnings, and how these happy/sad times recur even as the specific events change.
As the end of the school year looms closer, I am reminded of the challenges we all face when confronted by transitions. No matter how much we may look forward to an ending, or a beginning, the anticipation as well as the reality is often very stressful. Some of our discomfort stems from our own ambivalence. When my girls were growing up, we often talked about feeling “happy/sad.” This was our way of acknowledging that curious mixture of emotions one so often feels during a transitional time – the happiness and anticipation when faced with something new combined with the sadness and sense of loss when giving up the familiar and comfortable.
Anticipating the ending of a school year is always one of those happy/sad times for my family. We’re tired, ready to be done with the routines of early bedtimes and homework. We’re excited to think about vacation, camp, travel, lazy days at the pool or the beach. Yet along with those feelings is a curious sense of loss – the ending of friendships, relationships, and routines that have punctuated our days.
I still remember the summer between third and fourth grade when I was a child. Someone had told me that fourth grade meant “long division.” In my mind I had no idea what long division was, except that the person who told me about it made it sound very ominous. I spent the summer dreading fourth grade, with the impending doom of long division! I often wonder what demons inhabit the heads of our children; what are they anticipating, or perhaps dreading, about their new school year.
This may be a good time to start the conversation about endings and beginnings. Talk about what they will miss, and what there is to look forward to. Give your children the space to express their concerns, their fears, and their excitement. Let them know that it’s all right to feel happy/sad about change, and that you will be there to listen and share their feelings. Life is filled with transitions; learning to navigate them comfortably is among the skills that we teach our children. The end of each school year gives us another opportunity for practice.