How did we get here?
Weren't we just filling out beginning of the school year forms, buying and labeling folders and school supplies, picking out first day of school outfits and gleefully sending our kids off to a new school year?
Now here we are, thickly in the midst of end of the school year activities. Concerts. Plays. Performances. Field Days. Graduations. Field Trips. Summer camp registrations.
This year is different, though. This year is my oldest baby's last year of elementary school. As this school year comes to an end, this chapter in his life is closing.
I thought the only way I would make it to this point would be by someone dragging me unwillingly as I clung desperately to the thought of my baby staying in elementary school. Just 9 months ago I watched him get on the bus for his first day of 5th grade and I couldn't believe middle school was coming. This point in time seemed so far away then. It was completely on the other side of The Bridge. But now, when I send him off to school each day, I think "He's totally outgrown elementary school." He's ready. His friends are ready. I'm ready.
Or so I thought,
Last week he took the stage in his final elementary school talent show in a group number with over 40 of his 5th grade classmates. When at the end of the performance, the students grouped themselves together so that their shirts spelled out "THESE WERE THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES." I let out an audible gasp and then cried for the first time about him leaving elementary school.
It hit me in that moment - not only were these the best years of his life (so far), they also have been the most influential. It was there, in classrooms, recess playgrounds, cafeterias and hallways that he learned how to build solid friendships, how to be himself, how to learn, how to play, how to manage independence, how to ask for help and how to give help. It was here that he transitioned from a short, squishy, shy, self-conscious 6 year old to the tall, athletic, outgoing and confident 11 year old he is today.
As I tried to see through my tear-filled eyes, I looked around the stage at our 5th graders and then at some of my fellow 5th grade parents. From here on out, we start letting them go a bit more and trusting that the foundation they built during their elementary school years is strong enough for them...for us.
Recently my Timehop showed me a picture of my current 5th grader as a 5 year old, preparing to transition into kindergarten. We were at a "Touch a Truck" event and he had excitedly climbed onto a big yellow school bus with me. There on my Timehop was a photo of me and my baby, peering out the school bus window, both of us filled with excitement about the years to come in elementary school. If I could go back in time and interview that version of us, I don't think either of us really had any idea what the elementary school years would bring us - moments of pure joy, fear, laughter, sadness, new friendships born, old friendship broken and mended and immense amounts of growth.
These years of elementary school weren't always easy.
But, you know what?
They truly have been the best years of our lives.
There are times in everyone's lives when the bad stuff hits.
Sometimes the bad stuff hits all at once. Sometimes the bad stuff hits gradually over time. Sometimes the hits are so bad that you don't feel like getting out of bed, leaving your house or answering your phone. Sometimes the bad stuff makes you turn inward. Sometimes it makes you implode on yourself. Sometimes it makes you explode on others. No matter how you react to the bad stuff, one thing is shared - the bad stuff exists for all of us at some point in our lives.
As I have been reflecting on our shared experiences with the bad stuff lately, I have been considering them within the context of this time of year. All around us, school years are coming to an end. Young adults everywhere are marking the end of their college and high school experiences in commencement and graduation exercises and even little children are participating in preschool graduation ceremonies. This is a time of reflection and goal setting.
With all of this around me, I can't help but think back 20 years ago to my own high school graduation. While I cannot recall the specifics of my commencement speech, I do recall the quote I referenced throughout the speech. As the class Valedictorian, I wanted to inspire my class to action and success. The tenets of the quote I referenced have been kicking around in the back of my head recently, begging to be let out. So, I am sharing the quote again; this time not to inspire people to individual greatness or to action but to normalize our shared experience of the bad stuff in life:
"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
― Theodore Roosevelt
For the 17 year old version of me, this quote was all about being your best, striving for greatness and setting up the best future possible for yourself, knowing that it would take fight, courage and, sometimes, even failure. But, today I look at this quote in a much different way. To me, it is a quote filled with questions:
- Are you stumbling these days?
- Are you reflecting on how you could have done things better?
- Is someone else pointing out your shortcomings?
- Are you failing?
- Are you finding yourself totally spent but spent for a worthy cause?
- Are you tired of the fight?
At some point in our lives, we all can answer at least one of these questions with a resounding "YES!"
For me, as I look at this quote all these years later, I see that it truly doesn't really matter whether you succeed or fail. What matters is that you are out there - you are in the arena. You are trying. You are doing. You are living. And, until we know failure, loss and sacrifice, we cannot truly appreciate the sweetness of success and all the beauty life has to offer us.
So, to the person in the arena, with the face marred by "dust and sweat and blood", look around. If you take a moment to pause your battle and take stock of where you are right now, you will see that you are not alone. There are lots of us in the same arena and while we all are fighting versions of our own battles, our own bad stuff, some of us are here to help fight each other's battles as well. This arena can be a scary, dangerous place but it isn't a vast empty space.
The arena isn't a space in which we all fight our own battles; instead, the arena is a place where we can gain strength from each other and from knowing that we are not alone. Reach out to those around you in your arena right now and let them help you fight your battles and your bad stuff. The real living in life, after all, takes place in that space between failure and success. It takes place in the arena.
About Changing Perspectives
I often find myself encouraging people to consider changing their perspective or reframe the way in which they view things. This blog is an extension of that practice and is also an opportunity for me to write from a number of different perspectives including clinician, educator, mother, friend and supervisor. Blog topics are also quite varied and changeable. Topics explored include, but are certainly not limited to, grief, parenting, health and wellness and relationships. Join me and explore a number of changing perspectives!