Hepcat and The Oh So Feisty One spent the night before her graduation from PS 321 coloring her hair blue. Hepcat is quite the artiste when it comes to applying Manic Panic hair color with a paintbrush (it must be all those painting classes he took with renowned abstract artist Elizabeth Murray at Bard College back in the 1970s).
OSFO had her heart set on peacock blue and she’d designed her graduation outfit around it.
It took more than two hours, but when Hepcat was done, OSFO shampooed her hair and stared at herself in the hallway mirror, pleased with the results.
On graduation morning, she was a sight to behold: Electric blue hair, a white Empire waist dress with blue polka dots, black leggings and, the final touch, royal blue Converse high tops.
The family, including a reluctant Teen Spirit and a less-reluctant Diaper Diva, walked proudly to the John Jay HS building on Seventh Avenue with their color-coordinated soon-to-be graduate.
Smartmom admired the other fifth-grade girls in their festive attire. Some wore high heels they could barely walk in. Even the boys made an effort to dress up, wearing suits, jackets, oversized button-down shirts, ties, good shoes, and hats.
Smartmom, Hepcat and Teen Spirit found seats in the balcony of the stifling auditorium. There was speechifying by fifth graders that tugged at Smartmom’s heart. One kid, a budding politician no doubt, spoke portentously, “This is not just the best school in the city, it’s the best school in the world!” Others talked about the friends they’d made, the teachers they’d loved and all the interesting things they’d learned.
The principal spoke directly to the kids: “As people, you understand the importance of working together and making each other look good.”
Borough President Markowitz delighted (the parents, at least) with his speech about eating right and getting exercise. But when he asked, “Any doctors in the house? Any lawyers? Any future borough presidents?” Smartmom was disappointed. What about artists, actors, and writers?
Marty ended the speech, as he has done for years, with a “Star Wars”-style light saber in his hand, “May the force be with you,” he said.
Teen Spirit napped, Hepcat snapped pictures, Smartmom skipped around to empty seats visiting friends.
Finally, the children received their diplomas. One by one, every name was called. Smartmom and Diaper Diva went downstairs to get a better view of OSFO receiving sheepskin. Then the children sang “Yonder Come Day,” a rousing Negro spiritual.
According to OSFO, none of the children wanted to sing that song. They wanted to sing, “Seasons of Love” from “Rent.” But you could barely discern their ambivalence because they sang so movingly and with such enthusiasm.
Smartmom cried, experiencing some release from the build-up of the last few weeks: the waiting to hear about middle school, the many end-of-year events, the endless sense of ending. It felt cathartic.
After the graduation ceremony, there were still two more school days before the last day of school. The kids aren’t required to attend — they’ve graduated after all. But most of them enjoy cleaning up their classrooms and hanging out with their teachers and friends.
On the last official day of school, it rained, and the playground began to clear not long after the noon dismissal. Parents clutched report cards, test scores, shopping bags stuffed with schoolwork, artwork, clay sculptures.
Some fifth graders cried. Some, like blue-haired OSFO, were very “whatever.” One mom’s eye make-up was blurry and black from the sadness and the humidity.
Another mommy friend told Smartmom, “You know, we’re moving…”
OSFO’s second-grade teacher looked on in disbelief that this class was moving on to the next big thing. Smartmom felt tears coming on for this beautiful, young teacher, who had some of these fifth graders in her very first class.
Smartmom ran into OSFO’s third-grade teacher, a spirited woman with a warm face.
“So this is it,” she said to Smartmom and gave her a hug. More tears just below the surface. As the backyard emptied in the light rain, Smartmom didn’t know what to do with herself. As she has done all year, OSFO was already on her way to a friend’s house.
Smartmom stood alone, looking for someone to talk to. And then it dawned on her: She has no business at this elementary school anymore. Sure, she could hang around at drop off, pick up and watch the parents of younger children as they move through the steps of elementary school. She could even pretend to have a child going there.
But what would be the point? Smartmom is no longer part of this place that engaged her in so many ways for 11 years. Without a child in school, the time has come to let go.
Next fall, OSFO, with her blue-streaked hair, will catch the B67 bus to her new school, New Voices.
And Smartmom will also begin a new adventure. She’s ready (she thinks!).