Four years old. Just over three feet high. In a uniform that was ludicrously long. Tiny then, even tinier in hindsight, and in the pictures I can still find on my phone. The pictures I was going to use for the “First Day Last Day” post, like the ones I saw on Facebook last June. First day of primary school, then zoom forward (because we’re all zooming now) to the last day of primary school.
Except there will no be a last day. The last day already took place, on March 12th, when the kids were in tears, worried they wouldn’t be back, and the parents and teachers reassured them. Of course they’d be back. Of course they’d see each other again. Except, now it turns out, they won’t.
I still remember finishing primary school. Back then, in 1987, we had a school disco with the adjoining boys’ school. There was slow dancing. I’m not making this up. It was at two o’clock in the afternoon in the PE hall of the girls’ school, and there was slow dancing with boys. But more than that, I remember the friendships, the goodbyes, the autograph books we brought in to write notes to one another. I still have mine – in a box in the attic and in an indelible memory in my mind. The Pierrot image on the front cover, the multi-coloured pages inside, gilt-edged in gold. The notes from friends. My family was moving from Cork to Dublin, so the notes were double-soaked in goodbyes. New friends are silver but old friends are gold wrote my friend Liz. I still remember.
I remember the school tour – we went to St Stephen’s Green Shopping Centre in Dublin, which doesn’t sound too amazing if you already live in Dublin, but we lived in Carrigaline Co. Cork, so it was out of his world. I celebrated by getting my ears pierced a second time, then tried to hide it with my hair when I came home to my parents. (I really didn’t think that one through.) A bit like the school discos, I can’t imagine a jewellery shop agreeing to pierce a twelve-year-old’s ears without an adult present. Ah, the 80s. Good times.
Good times are what it’s all about for that final term of sixth class – the term my eldest child has been living for all year. The school tour to Kilkenny she’s been saving up for because they get to go shopping. The sports day at which the sixth class do a dance – the one that makes me cry every year, despite never yet having a child take part. The graduation play they’ve been writing for the last two years. The graduation night I helped out at last year, in tears at the speeches, thinking ahead to our turn this year. The yearbook they put together. Signing the PE tops for each other. The ruling-the-school zero-work weeks in the lazy days of June, when the sun shines every day and sixth class reaches peak sixth class. I’ve just made myself cry.
And I know there are bigger things going on. And I know we’re all working hard to concede our sadness to those bigger things. I see people mourning lost trips and lost work opportunities, always following on with “It’s not a big thing with all that’s going on.” And it’s not, of course it’s not, but it is too. All those lost trips and lost job opportunities and missed events and cancelled weddings matter, and we need to allow ourselves to be sad. I’m sad for everyone, I’m sad for the big things, but I’m sad for the little things too. Like saying goodbye to primary school on March 12th, without ever knowing it was goodbye.
4 thoughts on “A Ballad for my Sixth Class Girl (I promise it’s not actually a ballad)”
There are bigger things going on, but the children shouldn’t have to consider those. My neighbour is the same, her daughter is finishing(finished!) primary school this year and she feels robbed of that very special 6th-class experience. Your daughter will have this lovely post, and of course you’ll still have to take her photo on the actual last day.
Bawling! It is such a rite of passage and it totally is a big thing. Better things to come for us all please God x
Andrea I feel so sorry that 6th Class graduates will miss this special transition and the memories that spring from it. They deserve something of the ceremonious and I’ve no doubt that the creative and kind minds around them will facilitate an alternative experience. Exciting times ahead for your eldest. Best wishes to her and her friends.
Thank you Liz for the good wishes. They had a graduation in the end – a one-by-one ceremony that wasn’t the same but was something to give them a bit of closure. It’s funny, I have such clear memories of finishing primary school and signing autograph books but I don’t know if we ever had a formal graduation – I’m not sure it was a thing in the 80s! So maybe this generation will be okay after all…
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