The Last Day

The Last Day

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The school year had come to an end. It had been an absolutely great year and the teachers were as sad as the children to say goodbye. Fortunately for the teachers and the children who were able to stay on, there was a little three week summer camp. This was essentially an extension of the school year along with sprinklers and more time for everything, because of the longer day. It was heaven for all.

The smell of sun tan lotion filled the sunny room as the children busily colored and made things. The block constructions were extra elaborate and beautiful because the room wasn’t shared with another class after lunch. This afforded the children the luxury of being able to keep them up. Adding on and changing them the next day was something they could look forward to and enjoyed.

For several days, the teachers, Liz and Rebecca had realized the children were feeling the end of this wonderful time very much. The teachers also felt increasingly sad, but inserted little happy phrases into the swirl of soft vitality whenever possible.

“Rebecca, isn’t this the best camp group we have ever had?”

Rebecca chimed right in. “Absolutely, Liz. We will remember this class forever.”

The girls drew butterflies, bees and ice cream cones and gave their cone pictures to the teachers. As Rebecca and Liz pretended to lick the cones, they smiled with the beginning of tears in their eyes.

Emma said, “This is my last day.”

“Next year I will be going to a brand new school,” Sarah said softly. “My mom keeps talking about it.”

“Me too,” Mary said.

Rebecca and Liz sat down and started drawing hearts. Although they had taught the children how to make them, the girls asked, “Could you make hearts for us?”

“Of course we can,” said Rebecca, and Liz just smiled and got to work.

“Let’s draw rainbows for Rebecca and Liz,” suggested Sarah.

Mary looked suddenly proud. “I can write ‘I love you’ now. I practiced last night some more.” She handed us each a small batch of hearts and ‘I love yous.’

“Your writing is really good now, Mary,” Liz told her. Rebecca and Liz looked at each other and had to get up to get Kleenexes in different spots in the class.

“I have a good idea, children,” Rebecca announced. “We can make a Happy Year cake.”

“A real one? That we can eat? Yay!” The class got really excited.

Everyone lined up to wash hands. The children loved measuring ingredients and mixing them together.

“Look, the eggs are gone! They are mixed with the sugar now,” Emma observed.

In no time they were pouring the batter in the pans. Rebecca brought the pans into the kitchen and popped them in the oven.  She came back with the makings of butter cream frosting. The vanilla smelled so good. Liz let everyone smell it. “Whenever we smell this we will remember the best summer camp ever,” she told them. Sam asked for another sniff. So did Mary, and then everybody.

“Now I know that smell, “said Mary. “Me too,” became a little chorus.

The layers of the cake cooled during lunch. Afterwards, the children had fun icing it. Rebecca gave them plastic knives and they were finished in minutes.

Mary looked around at her friends and said, “When we eat this cake, it will be a part of us.” Everyone loved that idea.

The teachers brought out an assortment of paper plates left over from a variety of birthday celebrations of the past year. The children loved them. The plates were colorful, two with cheetah prints, a few with bold stripes and some with clowns.  It was a party. There was no squabbling as the plates were put out.  Each one was able to choose his own and everyone was happy.

Before the cake was cut, Liz looked at Rebecca. “I want to say something to them before we eat,” she said in a low voice.

“Children we have loved this time as much as you have. We love you so much and know your new teachers will too.” Liz’s voice cracked.  Rebecca put her arm around Liz and said, “Please visit us, whether you are in new schools or are in another class right here.  We’ll ask your mothers to please come too.”

Mary asked quietly, “Will you put notes in our bags for them to read?”

“Yes sweetheart, we will. What a great idea!”

The cake was finally cut. Making it together had been important for all. The room got quiet as everyone concentrated on eating.

Then Greg broke the silence. “Yeah, we can visit a lot right?”

“Yeah like everyday!” Robby added.

After the cake, the children sat in a circle for the last time. Liz and Rebecca described a wonderful quality in each child.  They hugged each child tightly. As the children lined up, Rebecca ran to make copies of the ‘Please visit us’ note to put in the school bags. The children filed out slowly to the play yard.

Many mothers greeted Rebecca and Liz with sad eyes too. Some were not surprised to see the children so upset as they knew how much their child had loved the year. Others seemed less tuned in and even attributed the sadness to lack of sleep. “The baby’s teething!” Or “The thunder was so loud last night.” Or “She’s been up since 5:30!” And then, “Come on, we’ll get ice cream.”

Liz and Rebecca walked slowly back to their room. They hugged each other. Each one knew exactly what the other was thinking. They gathered their bags and flowers and cute presents from the children. Rebecca and Liz took their paper ice cream cones and pretended to lick them, smiling through tears.

“Thank you, wonderful Rebecca.”

“Thank you dear Liz,” said Rebecca. “What a year! We will never forget this class, ever!”

Maybe there just is no real preparation for the last day of anything. The teachers knew they loved their class but had no idea how the end of their rich days was going to affect them. The calendar dictated this day months ago and yet the heart knew nothing about a date.

For young children with little grasp of time, the end was inconceivable until the drumroll of parent explanations made them begin to understand. They had loved the year; the idea of no longer having the cozy room and their teachers’ and friends’ presence weighed on them. What was ahead? Would they still see the friends they had played with all year? Were there really more wonderful times coming up? Parents will reassure their children as long as they are able to acknowledge the reality and depth of their very unfamiliar feelings.

This wonderful time that the children and teachers had together will be part of them forever, just as Mary said the cake would. The lesson of loving something and then realizing it is transient will be tenderly sorted out. The roots of deep feelings are being established and will be nourished with every important experience. The children will learn that the happy paradox; feeling more is the truest comfort of all.

Written by – Anne Martine Cook, Managing Partner & Mom, with 40+ years experience teaching nursery school children.

We welcome your comments and questions.

Originally published in June 2013.