Sunrise, Sunset — Grammar School Style

Readers, I hope you’ll allow me a weepy moment. New York City schools get out late. For us,  graduation was Wednesday. That’s when I wrote this, which I also posted on  the Huffington Post New York page :

10 AM. In an hour my younger son graduates from grammar school. He’s the “boy who took the subway by himself” last year and made headlines worldwide, but last night he was just a boy desperately poking me at about 3 AM, trying not to wake his father up.

I followed him into the darkened living room and as we sat down on our foul, old L-shaped couch, he was so relieved to be in mommy’s arms that the tears came pouring out. “My ear!” he held his head. “My ear hurts so much!”

He’d already taken a Tylenol (Free-Range kid!), so I said, “Well, let me tell you a story,” racking my brain for the oldest diversion of all.

The only thing is, I’m terrible at making up stories. As I stalled for time, “Let’s see…let’s tell you a nice story…” he piped up, “Can you tell me what happened with Hansel and Gretel?”

Now, this was not out of any sudden fondness for the classics. It was because he’d seen a cell phone commercial where two lost kids say to heck with breadcrumbs and use their phone’s GPS.

So I started telling him the story, or at least the highlights I could remember. Then, when he moaned in pain again the second the tale ended (and I really couldn’t remember if those kids got eaten or not), I racked my brain again and dredged up Cinderella — mostly the Leslie Anne Warren version, with Good Witch Glinda’s voice subbing for the Fairy Godmother’s. Sue me.

Then came Snow White, with a tiny detour into why “fair” was once considered the most beautiful shade of skin (Europe/long time ago/ethnocentrism), and what a stepmother is (“Usually much nicer!”). Why dwarves would all live together was left unexplained. Why they’d keep a dead girl in a glass casket, ditto. He thought the story was cool. At the same time, though, he was very hot, so got into a tepid bath.

From behind the shower curtain he said, “Didn’t you once give us a fairy tale book?” He was referring to my favorite book from childhood.


“Why don’t you go get it?” He knew exactly where it was in his room: the shelf with the books he never touched.

So then we spent the next hour or so, him in the tub, working our way through the Borthers Grimm indeed – the wolf eating Little Red Riding Hood, Rumplestiltzkin tearing himself in half (that’s the ending!), and the real Hansel & Gretel, who, as it turns out, only ended up in the woods only because their parents abandoned them there. The family didn’t have enough to eat, so for the parents to live, the kids had to starve. (Which is why today, when parents today moan, “Times have changed,” I wish they’d add: “Hooray!”)

Anyway, finally, it was time for bed again.

“I feel sooooo much better!” my happy boy said as he lay down.

And now it is ten in the morning. My son is probably already in the auditorium, practicing the National Anthem and whatever “Children Are the Future” song the fifth graders will sing to reduce us Camcordering parents to tears. I can deal with that.

What was hard was seeing the kids frolicking in the schoolyard at drop-off: the boys suddenly crisp in their khakis, the girls suddenly gorgeous in their graduation dresses.

Soon, and forever more, that schoolyard will be filled with anonymous, interchangeable kids, fiercely beloved by other parents, not me. But for one last morning, there was my miraculously recovered little boy, chasing his friends, posing for digital pictures, eager to get out of his dress shoes.

Grammar school is over. I guess it’s as simple as that. I’m sure I’m not the first mom to get a little teary, especially after a night spent with the children of the ages – princes, paupers, starving kids eating a candy house. For a few hours in the night my boy and I were suspended in that very special time called childhood.

And this morning, we’re heading out.

— Lenore

29 Responses

  1. What a sweet, sweet story. :o)

  2. Very cute, and a great memory to hold onto for years to come.

  3. BLUB! Such a special time. I’m glad that the two of you got to share that space together. Cherish the memories for always.

  4. So it IS true! They DO grow up! I´m sorry, but my eldest just “graduated” from pre-school, and although everybody around me just tells me that I should “cherish the memories”, it sometimes feels as if I´m on a lifelong sentence.
    Mind you, I also go all teary when she decides she is too “grown up” for certain games, or clothes or whatever, so I´m not sure if I will cry my eyes out or shout hooray when my youngest leaves school…

  5. Very sweet – love those moments. 10, 11, 12 are such “liminal” ages – they’re one foot on the way to teen-age-hood and one food still in childhood. My oldest is 11 and I am loving this time with him!

    Glad he wasn’t too sick for graduation! On to middle school!

  6. Worth missing some sleep for memories like that!

  7. Nice Lenore. Congratulations to you and the graduate!! It all goes so fast. 😦

  8. I treasure all the “middle of the night” talks I have had with my kids. Everything seems more muted and soft somehow, and – no matter what time it is anywhere else – like the two of you are the only ones awake in the world. It’s perfect for sharing secrets and making memories.

    Congratulations, and good luck at Junior High!


  9. That is a fabulous story, Lenore! I still remember how nice it was when my son was 13 (now 16) and despite being as tall as me would still crawl into my lap when he was upset, sad, or just needed a cuddle.

  10. Nicely done, as always.

    The explanation I have always heard for “fair skin” had nothing to do with racism, per se. Rich women spent all their time indoors, while poor women were out in the field getting tan. It’s always chic to look rich.

  11. Oh Lenore – this was so beautiful! I had similar situation with my 8th grader this past week. She is leaving middle school and off to high schol yet every so often she will want to sit on mom’s lap and get a hug. Which is pretty funny because at 13 she is a good 4 inches taller than I am and full of womanly curves where bones used to protrude. It’s funny how grown up they want to be – and yet…..can still revert to that kids who wants “just one more story” or the kid who needs your lap.
    The trick though, is to know which mom they need when. 🙂

  12. Kenny: The story of fair skin as a beauty symbol actually quite literally resembles the Dr. Suess story about the Sneeches. Prior to the Industrial Revolution, really pale skin was a status symbol because it meant you didn’t have to work the fields (which in that time basically meant you had enough inherited wealth that you didn’t have to work, period). With the rise of factories, though, menial labor moved indoors and now pale skin meant you were one of the proles, whereas a deep tan meant that you had plenty of outdoor leisure time. Body-fat levels follow similar rules: plump is pleasing when food is in short supply, and skinny is in when leisure time for physical activity is at a premium.

    Beauty standards are far more mutable than most people think; the only one that seems to be truly hard-wired is a (very strong) preference for symmetrical features.

  13. You almost made ME tear up with that one! I’ve mentioned it before that I have a 5 month old daughter…what’s new is that I’m pregnant again. I’ve had a tough time being “really excited” about this new baby because I’ve been enjoying the one I have so much. But for the first time, today I remembered giving my daughter her little table-top baths (we now have baths together and enjoy the splashy play time). I can’t believe how big she is already, but thinking about what a difference there is, I am now excited to do it all over again.

    I already feel like time is slipping by too quickly and will try to enjoy every moment (even the sleepless ones) for I know that all too soon my little babies will be graduating grammar school too.

  14. So what are we supposed to do about this?
    I understand about “arming” our children with all the tools to make them independant. But this is insane. I dont consider myself a helicpoter mom but I am quite cautious about who they are near…

  15. Well, don’t let your kids hang out with that guy again, and let them know they shouldn’t be entering houses of people you don’t know closely without you.

    Nobody claims that stranger abductions don’t happen, just that they’re statistically unlikely.

    Almost two people a day are struck by lightning in the US, but we don’t revolve our lives around that risk either, do we?

  16. TGL43 I can only suggest that you browse back through other entries and read up on them as well as the comments before commenting again.

  17. Surprisingly, Jen, the comments to the linked-to article contain a good helping of level-headedness.

    This is so weird as to be shocking.

  18. Lenore, great post. I love that you have the Grimm stories. Most parents don’t anymore. I have my grandmother’s very, very worn copy and love to shock my guys with those tales.

  19. Lenore, maybe you should have a specific “complain about frk” page so that when you write an article we can focus on that instead. This was such a beautiful one!

  20. What a touching story. My middle daughter graduated kindergarten earlier this month. My son did it last year. My oldest daughter finished kindergarten in 2006 but didn’t have a graduation so I thought I was all set to deal with this newest one. Was I shocked to find myself brought to tears by some silly song they sang about getting bigger. I don’t even remember the words but the idea behind it just stopped me in my tracks and I’m not normally all emotional about my kids meeting their milestones. I’m usually excited and pushing them on to the next one (in a loving, gentle way).

  21. 1. Lenore, great piece. My daughter is only 4 and a half and yet I see her growing up so much everyday. As infuriating as the “one more story; one more hug; one more question” etc. is at bedtime and as tiring as it is to get up in the middle of the night I am ever aware that these days are short and she will be out on her own sooner rather than later and I will regret every chance I passed up on to read “one more story”. Lovely story.

    2. Uly, good link, thanks for the heads up. So much good stuff there.

  22. We are in the same boat, Lenore. My Boy (oldest child) left grammar school on May 22nd. He starts middle school on August 3rd. *sob*

  23. Ah..congratulations!!

    I loved the story-telling. I’ve found that when my kids fall down or get scraped knees, a story works better than a kiss…well the kiss is icing on the story anyway.

    (for ear aches: wrap a garlic clove in gauze and put it in his ear. Put tape across it so it doesn’t fall out while he sleeps. Take it out in the morning. This is not in leiu of tylenol if there is a fever, but in conjunction. I do this if the ear ache is in the middle of the night and I can’t get them to the doctor’s until morning. Usually the ache is gone and they get a clean bill of health at the doctor’s office the next morning.)

  24. Alida, wouldn’t garlic-infused olive oil work just as well and not require the tape?

  25. You might be interested to know Roger Ebert recently published an article about the free range kids movement (if that’s the right word). I saw the embedded video about you letting your son ride the subway — good for you!!!

    Anyway, here’s the link to Ebert’s excellent article:

    Keep up the great work!

  26. Uly,

    Huh? I have no idea. Perhaps, sounds sensible, but not as dramatic. Where is your sense of drama? LOL.

  27. TGL43 I can only suggest that you browse back through other entries and read up on them as well as the comments before commenting again.

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