We pulled up to the all brick neighborhood school where our kids will attend in just a week. They had posted the class lists on the door, and we’d decided to go and check it out. Since we just moved, we haven’t attended this school before—in fact, we’ve only been inside the building once so far, and that was just a few steps into the office to register. At the time, the kids were under the threat of no dessert or the rest of the afternoon in their room or the death penalty—I’m not sure which summer threat things had escalated to so far that day—so I’m not sure how much they even remembered of the few minutes they had spent in the building that would soon be their home for 7 hours a day, every day.

It was the end of summer. It had been a great summer, as far as summers go. Summers are always an in between, a break from one year to the next. A pause from schedules where we can sleep, and go do things as the mood strikes us, and read and read some more. Since I work part time from home, the kids always put themselves through a quiet time routine, which they are getting especially good at as they get older. Even with all of the fun summer holds, it is a lot of togetherness—a lot of hearing each other’s voices. I had enjoyed this suspended state of being, but it was time to not be together so much anymore.

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This summer was a special kind of in between, since we moved the day after school ended to this new house in a new community 25 minutes away from our old house. My plan when we had moved early summer was to meet a bunch of kids. Or a handful of kids. Or really, just one kid who could be a familiar face at the school. I was pretty flippant, actually, about the fact that this would happen. I included it when anyone asked me my plans for the summer. “Oh, we’ll go on a few trips, and then meet a bunch of kids from the neighborhood! It’ll be perfect,” I said. But then we went on those trips and were home the weeks between catching up and getting ready for the next one. It seemed like everyone in this town was on this same out of town and barely back in schedule—we chased ice cream trucks and looked down the streets in all directions and saw nothing.

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The end of summer always seemed so far away…until this day, when we went to do this class list viewing, and it suddenly wasn’t. We drove to check out the lists, since we now live around a mile from our school. We moved from a house where we were 1.5 blocks away. From our old house, I would look at the clock to see how close we were to dismissal at 3:30. Often, I’d look around 3:27 and think, Oh good, I’ve still got two minutes ’til I have to leave! And so, with the further distance of this new school, we signed up for the bus. At one point I pondered doing the 5 minute drive myself, but then I thought of my pretty regular failure to look up at the clock until 3:27 and imagined what my new reaction to that would be in this new house. I traded all those “Oh $hi+s!” for bus adventures for the kids.

Since this school posts class lists on the door, I imagine the day of posting is a big crowd-gathering celebration for the school community. We didn’t get to go to the school the day the lists were posted because we were out of town. So here we were, pulling up to the school a few days later, tan and refreshed from our last trip that always marks the end of summer—a week of jumping on lake trampolines, climbing dunes, and breathing that fresh, cool Michigan air at night.

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We had decided on a whim to swing by. Even though the list would just be a list of names without faces, it would be nice to have a teacher’s name to toss around for each kid. (And honestly, Vivvi could use the extra 3 days to get that name down. We were in a playgroup with 3 girls for just over 2 years, and at the end of that time, she still couldn’t tell you one of their names. This is the opposite of Wally Ben, who, as soon as he started talking, needed everyone’s name and would remember it. We were in a public bathroom stall once when he was a toddler and he heard a fellow shopper in the next stall. “Who’s in here, Mommy?” “Another shopper,” I whispered. He persisted: “But what’s her naaaaaaaaaaame?”)

We walked up to the school door and saw the teacher names and liked them. One was the name of the street our old school was on. One was a “Mrs.” name in a popular song. And that was that. Here we were, looking at these lists, with just 5 days to go before school started. And not-a-one name meant anything to us. They were as meaningful as the woman’s name in the stall next to us in the public bathroom.

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We were examining Wally’s sheet, as if any moment a name of a friend might pop forward and offer assurance. At this moment, a teacher left the building, arms spilling with laminated reels of paper with kids names written in the chalkboard-y Comic-sans-y font used on all school worksheets. It was a Sunday afternoon. It looked like she had been working for hours, typing kids names and laminating and typing and laminating, and then she stacked the huge pile of these efforts together so she could go home to continue the process. All of this on her last Sunday of summer. Bless you, I thought, seeing her balancing under that clear plastic load. And all the teachers who start back at school a week before the rest of us, whose summers are ending, whose end of summers mean a start of their togetherness as much as it means the end of mine. If I were her, I’d be getting the holy high-as-the-stack-of-laminated-names heavens out of that building and home to enjoy the last that summer has to offer.

But she didn’t. She stopped and steadied the stack in her hands, noticing the section of sheets we were looking at, “Are you going to be a 3rd grader?” she asked, smiling.

Wally, who is always initially shy, looked down and said quietly, “Yes.”

“What’s that?” she asked.

I answered for him. “Yes,” I said. “We just moved and we’re new to the school this year.”

Her face lit up. “Welcome! You’re going to love it. We have tons of fun at this school. What’s your name?” she asked. “I’m a 3rd grade teacher. Maybe I have you?” Kismet, I thought. That a 3rd grade teacher would be leaving here at this moment on a Sunday afternoon.

He answered, “Walter.” (This is how it was written on the sheet, so I’m sure that’s why, although we have NEVER IN HIS LIFE called him by his old man full name, he chose to call himself that now. Wally is Walter the Fifth. His dad refuses to be called “Walter.” His grandpa refuses to be called “Walter.” Even with the triple name confusion this causes, none of them wants to be cane-wielding, broccoli-smelling, up-to-your-nipples-in-pants, nerd-friend-from-every-90s-sitcom Walter. Later, I told him, it has never been more important for you to say the sentence, “I go by Wally.” If you chose “Walter” the first day of your new school, you will be Walter forever.)

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“No, I don’t have a Walter in my class,” she responded. And I have never been more glad. Because I had let summer carry us on its slow-paced, strange, too-much-togetherness, refreshing-togetherness, I-want-to-strangle-everyone-togetherness, isn’t-this-wonderful-togetherness wave to this moment, where it delivered me to this door where my kids would soon be spending the majority of their week with people we did not know who have these names. And I don’t know if it was the move, or the enjoyment of summer, or the worst dregs of summer, or the deadline of the week of Michigan air that would always be the end of it—but until this moment, I didn’t realize that I was anxious for them. I had never switched schools in my childhood. The friends I had were my friends for always. Now I was asking my kids to start school in this building they had been in once, with people whose names are on these lists and mean nothing to us yet.

And then this teacher comes out, who has so much to do still, who is spending her last Sunday laminating these names, and she is a salve to a worry I didn’t even know that I had. Summer had suspended me, as it’s meant to do. And this new beginning had caught me off guard. So when she said “No,” I was so so glad she didn’t say “Yes!” because I realized that if she had, I would have burst to big, sobbing, ugly-cry, happy tears. And Wally would be Walter for the rest of this life, and his teacher would think Walter’s mom is a nutjob.

I told one of my funniest friends about the near-outburst-of-tears incident, and she calmed me down, saying that since I never moved in childhood, all I knew about moving to a new school came from after school specials and Full House. And it would not be like that. My resilient kids would consider it the adventure we’d been pitching to them, and they’d have a great time.IMG_7125

The night before school started, we asked the kids how they felt about starting school. Wally said “Excited,” and Vivvi said, “Weird.” “Weird how?” I asked. “Like weird because I’ve never ridden the bus, and I don’t know the school, and I don’t know kids, so I don’t know what it will be like.” Uncertain, I thought. Now that is where this in-between state of summer can take you. That is an emotion that is open to possibilities—where anything can happen. Of all the emotions they could be feeling, I was happy to take “excited” and “weird.” And I realized—that’s how I felt about it, too.

The first day of school, we kissed the kids and our summer goodbye. The kids boarded the bus. It pulled away, and we returned to our quiet house, while their adventure began.

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