An elementary farewell

. March 19, 2013.
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June is here. School is ending and so is my time as a parent of elementaryaged children. It seems like only an hour ago that my wife and I sat through Kindergarten Roundup with nervous anticipation. And wasn’t it only moments ago, we were sending our daughters to Safety Town to learn how to wear bike helmets, stop drop and roll, and dial 911? Alas, like the Jeffersons, our kids are movin’ on up—one to middle school and the other to high school. The transition is sure to be bittersweet.

Safety town… for teens

Middle schools and high schools come with quite a different set of challenges for students and parents. Is there a secondary version of Safety Town that teaches children how to develop strong, healthy, and positive friendships? In early elementary school, it seemed that the worst one student could do to another was yell, “na-na-na-boo-boo.” As kids grow older, though, they develop highly sophisticated methods of subterfuge against one another. Cliques form, and one can never tell who is “in” and who is “out,” it changes so frequently—and for the silliest (and often, meanest) reasons. If you thought the Cold War was full of devious intrigue, you should attend a middle school dance sometime.

Is there a secondary version of Safety Town that teaches children—scratch that—makes children eat healthily? When our daughters were in elementary school, we would fix their breakfasts, lunches, and dinners. We would pack their low-fat, low-sugar, low-taste snacks for them, too. Ha! What could they do, but sit there and take it. We had control. The older they get, the more they discover independence. With this freedom, however, comes ways for them to be in situations where they have to make their own choices. (“Hmmm, should I order the salad with grilled chicken or the Mc- Nuggets and fries like everyone else in the group?”)

And holy Tweets, Batman! Is there a secondary version of Safety Town that helps parents keep up with a technological jungle that shifts faster than a fly changes direction? As the kids leave elementary school, something triggers inside them to ask for a Facebook account and cell phone. These things need their own set of ground rules if the kids are to use them in a positive way.

A new way of sharing

Growing older doesn’t mean the end to fun, though. Life and entertainment may have been simpler when they were  younger, but we seem to be enjoying our daughters’ interests just as much. It doesn’t seem that long ago that Playhouse Disney was our TV mainstay. By contrast, we now watch shows like Doctor Who and The Simpsons together. Gone are the days of singing the Fruit Salad song with the Wiggles. Here are the days of embarrassing them by trying to sing along to the Black Eyed Peas at a Bar Mitzvah.

 However, I will miss cutting out of work to chaperone their fi eld trips. Elementary school classes take the coolest excursions: the state capitol, the Chrysler Museum, Greenfield Village, Mud Hens games, winter survival training, and so many more that I’ll exceed my word limit if I continue. But just because middle schools and high schools don’t have the frequent parent-chaperoned trips, it doesn’t mean that I can’t share in our daughters’ activities. After all, we’ll have plenty of athletics events, concerts, and plays to attend. (An added bonus is that the kids’ talent levels have increased with their ages. No more magnet-ball soccer or screechy viola.)

Growing older (not up—even I haven’t grown up yet) means a whole new universe for my daughters. It truly is a joy watching them learn about more mature subjects. Now my kids are reading more advanced books. From the Lightning Thief to the Book Thief, we share many of the texts between us. Who needs Oprah? I’ve got my kids’ libraries to raid.

The conversations we have with each other can be a bit more complex, as well. Lately, we’ve talked about various topics from current events, politics, and religion. It’s actually a relief, as a parent, to not have to figure out ways to “dumb it down” for them anymore. The sad part is that there already have been times when they’ve had to simplify explanations for dear ol’ Dad.

Despite the inevitability of them passing me by, do I fear it? No. I relish it. I wouldn’t be doing my job as a father if I didn’t help nurture their growth. The only aspect of climbing upwards educationally that I’m slightly queasy about is the dating scene. I’m not afraid of it like a mouse that runs away from a cat, but more like a dog that barks at a vacuum cleaner. I just don’t know what to expect from it. Sure, there’ll be happiness and heartbreak in dating, just like there’ll be triumphs and failures in school. I just hope that I can be there for them at the right times and in the right amounts.

Jim Keen is a free-lance writer and life-long Ann Arborite. He lives in town with his wife, Bonnie, and daughters, Gabbi (14) and Molly (10). He is the author of Inside Intermarriage: A Christian Partner’s Perspective on Raising a Jewish Family (URJ Press). He can be reached at mya2@annarborfamily.com