The Last Kindergartner

It has come to this. My baby is graduating from kindergarten.

For him, the approaching milestone is a day to wear his father’s white dress shirt backwards (an unexpectedly effective mock graduation gown), bask in our attention (nothing new) and eat a cupcake (ditto). But for me, it is a necessary ritual, designed to say, “Mom. Watch me. I’m moving fast.”

This morning, one of the few left in the academic year, we raced our bicycles to school. Speed was important. We were late again, and after several unheeded requests that he get dressed, I had resorted to a parenting tool he responds to: threats. “If you are late to school today, you aren’t going to Drew’s birthday party this afternoon.” Right away, he scooted down the hall, his progress impeded by the plastic L.A. Times wrapper he had tied around his ankles. He likes a challenge.

He got dressed, grabbed his backpack, and we flew out of the backyard, past the blooming lavender bushes and struggling lemon tree. We raced through our village. His bike’s wheels are small, so his legs convert to cartoonish blurs when he is in a hurry. I had the luxury of larger wheels, fewer rotations of the chains, and the knowledge that his efforts had already earned him back the birthday party. So I took a moment to behold him as I followed him down the sidewalk.

He wore some of his favorites: faded too-long blue jeans; silver Transformers helmet, lopsided on his head; hot pink tye-dye t-shirt he had made with his aunt (and about which he had prepared the following conversation: “When Heidi says ‘pink is a girl color’ I will say ‘there’s no such thing as boy colors and girl colors’”); and a small striped backpack that replaced the huge skull-and-crossbones one he lost at the Yogurt Shoppe. He hustled ahead on his royal blue hand-me-down bicycle, its spokes rusted from too many nights left outside, its rear fender adorned with a red sticker that reads, “Bye Bye Bush.”

Watching him I wondered, How can this be? How can someone so small, with so many questions still, zoom along with such fierce purpose, keen balance and sense of self?

He learned to ride a bike within days of his fourth birthday. He was fearless—until a chance collision with a basketball hoop made him skittish and demanding training wheels again. We allowed the regression—he was only four after all—but it was hard to let him, knowing that he could do it but for fear.

When kindergarten started, he alone decided to take the training wheels off again. He proudly crowned himself the only kindergartner to ride to school on a two-wheeler, unassisted. And as much as I sometimes want to freeze time and keep him small, I cannot deny that his accomplishments are beginning to pile up. He is nobody’s baby. He doesn’t even seem to know he’s a little boy. He can do whatever he sets his mind to doing.

To wit, it’s not only the bicycle he’s mastered. He has run a 5K–without stopping once to walk! He is reading—actual books for goodness sakes! He is puffing up with confidence in his abilities. The world is at his (size 1 ½) feet.

And I ride behind him still, aiming my mental camera as he speeds away from me, praying that the image of his small body racing that well-loved bicycle toward the promise of a happy afternoon will outlast whatever else time brings us.

P.S. You may recall his first day of school, shy but brave.







What a difference a year makes.

Emmett at dress rehearsal for The Music Man

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