by Tanya Ward Goodman
It’s the end of the first week of school. For my daughter anyway. My son, as he’s only too happy to tell you, has got another two weeks of glorious summer freedom. He’s going into seventh grade, which means that a much procrastinated reading and writing project will be chewing holes in the freedom, but that’s no consolation to my daughter. She’s a storm cloud with a pony lunch box. A fifth grader carrying the weight of time passing like a lump of ice.
This is an annual event. My daughter simultaneously mourns the end of summer, dreads the beginning of school and sees her birthday as only the evidence of the quick slide of another year. She tells me to call her “cute” instead of “beautiful” and chooses clothes that are too small for her: “Of course, I’m a seven,” she said when we did a quick tour of back to school shops, “I’m little.”
But she’s a twelve and she’s got what might be the beginnings of breasts and a few scattered whiteheads have had the audacity to poke themselves out of the smooth plane of her gorgeous freckled nose. I don’t talk about it too much, but I make it clear that I’m here and I’ll listen to anything she wants to say when she wants to say it.
On Monday, I took my girl and her best friend to the Huntington Gardens for tea. We devoured tiny, crustless sandwiches and miniature cookies shaped like tulips. They skipped ahead on the path, marveling at the enormous groves of bamboo and flung themselves down on the edges of each pond to commune with the koi. Watching them gambol in the greenery, their legs slim and brown all quick movement and possibility was sweeter than all pastry.
That afternoon, the girls gave each other the kind of farewell that might have preceded a trip to Ellis Island. They embraced tearfully and for a long time as though to seal in the warmth of this last summer before fifth grade, this end of one thing and the beginning of the next.
And I have to say, I cried a little, too.