Is a chapter just about to end for you? For so many of us, the end of another school year is approaching.

Perhaps you are not a sentimental person, but most of us get caught up in daily life and forget the essential things that matter most to us. Here are a few things that matter to me this week, as my kids get ready to finish a regular school year:

  • Teachers went above and beyond this year. I want to celebrate the heck out of them.
  • The kids have been also through something hard. Let’s at least acknowledge it, and high-five their hard work with something fun.
  • Our neighbors all go to school with our kids. I want to take a minute to celebrate all together (kids AND parents) and turn the page on another school year.

How do you mark small life transitions, like the end of a regular school year? As I was driving middle school carpool this morning, one of the boys said, “This has been the longest year EVER!”

It has been a strange one, even though my kids were in-person at their school. Field trips were few, and there were no class parties. All instruction happened in one classroom for Covid-safety (no library, art room, or computer lab). In pre-pandemic times, their “specials” classes were the ones they looked forward to most.

What happens when we have a year where every day is similar and special occasions pass without a party? A year without celebrations means a shortage of distinct memories and looking back on vivid memories is one way people mark the passing of time. Days and months tend to blur together, and it turns into something scientists call “temporal disintegration.”

“What day is it?” The horizonless-ness of this pandemic has warped our sense of time, according to an article in The Atlantic, causing months-long stretches of time to seem looooong in the moment, but like they passed in a blip in retrospect. We have fewer memories or rituals or events to build the story of our year.

So it feels like a lost year to a lot of us. Does the last 14 months feel like that to you, or to your school aged kids?

How can we add a few meaningful moments to the end of a “lost year”?

Store-bought treats. If you don’t have time to plan an actual party (I don’t), something store-bought like a box a donuts is usually good enough to make the last day of school feel special, so it doesn’t pass by like just another day. With neighbors, we plan to do popsicles after school and S’mores at night with parents and kids.

Show up. My middle son is transitioning out of elementary school and into a new chapter: middle school!  We heard there will be a final chapel outdoors where the younger students sing a blessing to the fourth graders to launch them off to middle school. There will also be a car parade send-off. One of us will arrange our workday to be at the chapel, and the other at the car parade. (I suspect my husband will do the car parade because his Jeep is more fun than my minivan.) Has anyone else learned the hard way how important it is to kids that we show up for these things?

Celebrate Teachers. I’m not sure yet how we can appropriately celebrate this bunch sacrificial, intentional, awesome people. If you have any amazing ideas, add them in the comments (please!)

Some years, a BIG chapter ends.

Celebrations of big life transitions like high school graduation are a bigger deal. Last Saturday, we entered a church fellowship hall through a blue and white balloon arch. The scent of coffee, folding tables full of cookies, and a hand-scripted sign told us we were in the right place: Grace and Tiffany 2021.

My niece Grace had a table artfully designed with wooden pallets displaying photos of her at all ages, with all different people. I gave her a hug. Has it been 14 months since I’ve given her a hug? Probably longer.

I leaned in to examine the photos and she pointed right away to one of us together. It was a snapshot of us from her second birthday. I am leaning down onto the carpet on my elbows and she is putting lipstick on me.

That open house was an opportunity for everyone who loves Grace to mark that chapter break in her life. She was a high school student – now she will be a college student. She was a kid – now she is an adult. (As narrative life markers go, it’s a big one).

The photo Grace chose – where she is putting lipstick on me – highlighted something meaningful about our story as aunt and niece. (I have three boys, and not one of them has ever wanted to put lipstick on me. We have joked that I need to “borrow Grace” sometimes as a surrogate daughter.)

Being at her graduation party and sharing a moment over an old photo signaled our relational constancy. “I was there when you were two. I am here as you graduate.”

My nephew Eion is having a virtual graduation party. The idea and impact are the same – his parents created a website of photos marking his “baseball years” and documenting the origin story of his young fashion business. 

If we don’t make a point of marking these big moments in some way, it can feel like cutting pages out of a life story – like your life’s narrative has a gap in it. We lose a sense of our narrative selves – the sense of who we are, and how we became that person.

What are you taking time to reflect on and CELEBRATE this week? Make a big deal out of the big things. And maybe buy a donut to celebrate the little things too.

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