This is what I read in our grand finale Listen To Your Mother: Kansas City show yesterday. I wrote it between our first and second (final) rehearsals, and my son gave me his blessing to read it in front of the audience (while he was helping me get the show notebook together). I’m still very much processing what the end of the show means for me and feels like to me, but this, sharing my essay, is the easy part.

photo by Sarah Guthrie

First of the Lasts

I walked through an invisible wall, a thick barrier from the hallway to the sensory overload that was the fifth grade classroom. There were eggs being dyed, donuts being eaten, laughter, confusion, and the communication struggles that can only be between a room full of eleven year olds and a group of their moms. The high volume didn’t mean that instructions were actually being heard or attention was where it belonged, but even amid the exhaustion that comes from adults corralling two dozen kids and kids letting loose without actually being out of control, everyone was having fun.


It was my oldest’s Easter party at school. Like a typical unorganized mom of four, I probably wouldn’t have thought about the fact that it was his very last school party before he goes off to middle school in the fall unless the head room mom hadn’t sent a note home saying as much. In just one short paragraph, she reminded us that we would never again have the chance to spend an hour in a sugar-induced room of chaos with our kids and that they are, in fact, growing up too fast.


As the oldest child, he’s gotten the shaft many a time. Once he was old enough to go to school, he had a toddler sister (and shortly after) a baby sister. Then his baby brother came along. All of these siblings demanded care during the school day and weren’t all that pleasant to take to their brother’s classes. They did go once in awhile, when I wasn’t able to take them to their grandpa for babysitting, but I was so preoccupied by keeping them out of the party treats and classroom toys and holiday crafts that the best I could usually do was take a picture of big brother and little sibling to at least prove we were there to help and celebrate.


Once his younger sisters got a little older and went to school themselves, we had discovered that they required a gluten free diet. I’m not sure if you’ve dealt with food allergies at school, specifically during the times when the entire class period revolves around food (like birthdays and holiday parties), but I think you can probably imagine that I felt better being in the classroom with them to make sure they didn’t eat a gluten-filled treat from a well-meaning but clueless parent volunteer.


Of course, then all of the kids were old enough to go to school, which meant that I was free to help out during the day! It also meant that I am one person and they were in four different classrooms. I finally got the chance to see the baby of the family in the school environment, so I went to his parties sometimes. I played the gluten police at the girls’ parties on many occasions. And my oldest, who doesn’t often get worked up about things, would, every once in a while, ask me why I never came to his parties.


That isn’t to say that I always screwed the biggest brother over when it came to school. I sat next to him on the stuffy, bumpy school bus for field trips a few times. We visited museums and nature centers. I sat with him and his friends while we ate sack lunches and I listened to them talk about Minecraft and movies and whatever else they loved and I didn’t really understand.


As he gets older, I’ll freak out about each new thing he goes through first, like the braces, and advanced movie ratings, and school health talk experiences. Thank god for my friends with older kids that have already gone through this stuff and let me pick their brains when my son comes home from school and says “I think I need to wear deodorant….my armpits are starting to stink.”


So when that paper came home telling me that my boy was walking into middle school in the fall and that if I didn’t make it to the party, I would never get another chance, I made sure to get it on the calendar. I didn’t call the head room mom to tell her I could be there and help, though….I just showed up. As a result, the other moms were assigned jobs and I got to just go and watch. I did set out the snacks while the other moms got the groups through their stations, but for the most part, I got to stand on the perimeter and chat, take a few pictures, and just experience. Not bad for my son’s very last school holiday party. And I know, without a shadow of a doubt, that he appreciated that I came to his classroom and stayed there while the other three parties in his siblings’ classes were also taking place.


It’s all about learning as you go with your oldest child, and with a big family, sometimes you just can’t give everyone all of the attention that they crave. But a little goes a long way.
I’d like to think that I treat all of my kids the same, but I know that’s not entirely true. I expect more from my oldest, and sometimes think that because he is the oldest, he can handle the disappointment of losing out on my time. But I’ve also had more time with him and get to experience everything new as he does. My mom has always said that kids are like pancakes….you always burn the first one. Hopefully, you can scrape off the black bits and smother it with butter and enjoy it just as much as the golden brown stack underneath.