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.