Falling Forward

The last few hours of summer feel like a race against time.

It is a day before school starts. Jake and his mother spend it rushing to get last minute items. In the middle of this errand filled day Jake sees his kindergarden pass by through the car window. “Mom! Can we stop by Kapka, please…” Lisa’s instinct is to keep driving, but she stops the car and parks.

Jake surprises his teachers as he walks into the little red school house. The three women are overjoyed. Each of them represent the three grades of the school: Kindergarden through second grade. Jake almost towers over them now. His head almost touches the ceiling of the cramped second floor office that is wedged in the tiny house that doubles for a school. The homecoming is joyous. Together they recall ancient stories of a distant youth.

The moment is bittersweet. Jake tells me later, “Dad, I can only remember a couple of things about kindergarden.” Like what I ask? “I remember Cora. She was a super tall second grader. She was like a giant. The kindergardeners were given yellow triangles, the first graders were given red squares and the second graders – blue circles. I saw those blue circles and I never thought I would have one.” What else do you remember? “I miss little kids humor. Stuff just always seemed funny. Like when one of my friends shoved his hands into dirt to try to catch a earwig. I felt so safe. Everything was fun.”

Is that all, I prodded? “I can only remember one other thing. On the first day of school I found out who my friends were. When our Teacher asked for kids with the letter ‘J’ in the beginning of their names to stand up, it was easy, two other boys stood up and we were immediately called the ‘Three-J’s.’ They were instantly my friends… It was so easy. Kapka was my second home.”

Time surprises each of us like the uneven sidewalk that suddenly trips you up and forces you to fall forward. Much of the time you catch yourself, regain your balance, relieved that you didn’t fall flat on your face. You wonder how you just jumped two feet unexpectedly. Jake feels that way right now. He starts middle school tomorrow. It is official. Elementary school is now the past. Our little boy is getting closer to being a man.

Color coded friendly giants are not so easy to pick out any longer. Jake has to work at making friends. It can’t happen by the sweet chance of sharing the first letter in your name. The world is far more complicated. My job now as a parent is to trust Jake’s instincts. I have to watch him stumble forward. Be a witness as he learns from the lessons that are in front of him. I miss my little boy laughing in the playground of the little red school house. Luckily Jake misses him too.


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