Today, the kids woke up excited and ready for their last day of school. They ate breakfast and headed up the stairs to get dressed. My daughter boldly declared she wanted to wear something cute and asked if I could braid her hair. Because it was the last day, of course. 

They made their handmade last day of school signs and prepared to take their pictures by the front door, like they have every year before. We went outside and they held up their signs with pride while the pictures were snapped. 

Another school year has come to an end. 

And everything up until that moment felt familiar. And at the same time, completely different. 

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This year, there was no yelling for them to hurry and get in the car. There weren’t any teacher gifts sitting by the garage door for them to grab on their way out. There were no lunch boxes and water bottles stuffed into their backpacks. I didn’t check to be sure the library books had been turned in. 

Instead, they walked inside, put their signs on the counter, and headed upstairs to begin their Zoom school with their grandma and cousins—something we have affectionally named “MeMa School” over the past many weeks. It has been a wonderful way for my mom and stepdad to stay connected to their grandchildren and has given my sister and me both a break while they take over the schooling. 

And while our youngest two have begun their last day of MeMa School, our oldest two are still sound asleep, snug in their beds. They usually don’t awake to begin school these days until sometime between 10 and 11 a.m., some days even later. When they wake up, we will go through the same routine. They will make their signs, and we will snap their pictures. 

And then I will gather the four of them together for a group photo. 

The photos in many ways will look the same as they do every year.

The kids will look bigger and we will marvel at how much they’ve grown. The year and their grades will be recorded in marker on the pieces of paper they hold by their faces.

But the year end is so different than any of us ever could have fathomed when our children held up their first day signs all those months ago. 

In all this uncertainty, one thing is certain—this is a year we will never forget.

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The year when milestones came and went without our knowing they were happening. The year when we dropped off our children without tears because we didn’t know it was the last time. The year without proms, award ceremonies, field days, or end-of-the-year productions. The year without commencements.

The year when face masks and gloves and social distancing were the main topics of conversation. The year when we picked up the contents of lockers in bags on the front lawn of the school while the teachers waved from the sidewalk in face masks.

The year when creativity was put on display as we learned to celebrate milestones in new ways. The year when teachers showed up on driveways with awards. And drove by in car and bus parades, while children waved from sidewalks.

The year when my children had an end-of-the-year ceremony with their cousins and their grandparents on a Zoom call, instead of in a school building. 

The year when the world took a pause and life as we knew it went on hold while we gathered with our families in our homes and waited to see what would happen next.

The year when relationships were strengthened within our walls, and we saw how the world comes together in times of crisis.

The year when we once again were reminded of how incredibly resilient children are. 

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Today, when the kids began school on Zoom with my mom, I went into my room and cried. This wasn’t how their year was supposed to end. They were supposed to be with their friends, acting out while the teacher tries to rein in the chaos and the excitement that occurs every year on the last day. They were supposed to be eating lunch in the cafeteria and running on the playground at recess. They were supposed to spend this week watching movies in class, playing games and finding other fun ways to pass the time while counting down the days until summer begins. 

But none of that happened. And my heart ached, as it has many times over the past weeks, for what they were missing

Every year, since our oldest was in kindergarten, we spray the kids with squirt guns when they get off the bus. It’s an ambush they all have grown to love and anticipate. It signals the official start to summer. 

Last night, my daughter asked what we would do this year. She wanted to know how we would make it feel like summer. 

The truth is, I don’t know. 

But I will try. I will try my hardest to make this summer feel like summer. I will try to make it fun and memorable for them. My husband and I decided, later today, we are going to call the kids outside and he is going to be waiting with the hose to squirt them down. It may not be the ambush they are used to, but it will do. 

This may not be the last day they are used to, but it will be fine. 

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We will get through this. Just like we have been. We will get creative. And we will find ways to flourish. We will celebrate the last day and anticipate the start of summer. We will do what we can to make this unprecedented time special for our children. 

Today is the last day of school. And while it may be different than we ever could have imagined, it is definitely one that none of us will ever forget. 

Jennifer Thompson

Jennifer Thompson is a freelance writer, preschool art teacher and mother of four with a heart for Jesus. Her work can be found on a number of blogs and parenting publications. Recently relocated from Indianapolis to Nashville, Tennessee. She is a passionate storyteller and believes every person has an important story to tell. We grow when we share. And even more when we listen.