On coming of age with a lot of help from others.

Dear Gemma,

As I write this note you are off to lunch with your grade six friends and teachers. Tonight you graduate from primary school and despite the reflection I imagine I see in the mirror, that fact makes me the mother of a high school kid.


All along, you have been exactly who you are growing up to be. Quietly born early because you were just too big and ready, you have continued to achieve ahead of the schedule we imagined. You were a baby who strangely knew herself better than your flailing first-time parents. When you cried and fussed, you wanted to be put down and left alone. I saw that as you pulling away from me when you simply knew that you needed your space. I try to tell myself the same thing when I walk past your closed bedroom door these days.


Oh how many times I have underestimated your silence and mistaken it for something sullen. From the observant ten month old baby with the giant eyes like cups of black coffee who ended a day out at the Long Beach Aquarium saying her first word, fish, to the determined young lady who picked up a cricket bat in January and learned to love a sport you were born destined not to play, you are amazing at taking things in and processing your experiences.


You asked to go to school full time at 18 months old because you loved your Montessori days spent on the little mat doing what you were interested in doing with no concern for what the kid to your right or left was achieving. Those loving teachers let you learn to count and spell and read not on a schedule, but because they saw you yearning to do so.


What can I say about then moving you across the world from the only home you knew and popping you into a uniform with regulation red hairbows? I sent you off to proper school as a determined little sprite who politely corrected her three year old kinder teacher when she crossed out “mom” and wrote “mum” on your paperwork patiently explaining to her that you actually knew the difference.


We then pulled up your fragile roots again to put you into a different school, but unlike every plant I have endeavoured to care for, you just kept on growing. Making friends and sorting yourself out when I had my hands full of brand new baby twins, four year old kinder at ELC is lost to me. 


Prep was when you first truly fell in love with being in school here and with your first favourite teacher, Mrs. Silverman. What an exciting year you had bursting out of your quiet shell and turning into a great friend while developing your innate sense of fairness. Then there was grade one. The year we cried a lot in frustration and fear. Now in retrospect I see it taught us that not all boxes are the same and that when you can’t shove yourself in the one in front of you, you abandon the struggle and find a new box…one with plenty of room to grow. We were given the terrifying opportunity to change course and in that learn a huge life lesson in impermanence. “The hell with the plans!” we said with bravado. I certainly learned more than you did that year.


Moving you one final time for primary school was the best decision we made. Your year two was happy, gentle and productive. Kindness reigned and you did not just grow, you bloomed into the most delightful girl. Sally had you feeling safe and excited to go to school again. I was sad to see year two end, but it was only that we had yet to experience year three.


That year was what showed us the steel frame you have under all that beautiful softness. We could not have asked for a better teacher than Jess to take you on that ride. Never has someone seen beyond the party tricks of academic achievement to tell us not what we knew you could do, but rather what you needed to work on to be the very best person you could be. She pushed you because she saw in you what you did not know you could do. (Like not only ensuring you went to camp with a badly broken arm, but that you had an amazing time making sure you safely did the flying fox while you were there.) That was the year you told me that you wished you had a big sister and that you wished it was Jess. I have no doubt you will make an impact on many people’s lives like Jess did for you.


Grade four was another year of change not just with a move out of the main building to the classrooms in the back of the school but with a real introduction into the painful politics of childhood. A few bumps along that road, but Lauren helped you sort through the noise and see that happiness was the only path to follow away from conflict. The independence and confidence you came in with were put to the test but by the time you headed into the BER for years 5 and 6 you knew yourself, who your friends were and where you wanted to be. 


We both hoped for you to get the same teacher for those last two years in primary school and we must have pulled the stars into alignment with our silent wishing because you were put into Jane’s class with some of your closest friends. What an amazing two years it has been for you. You came in those doors still a little girl clutching her pen license and are leaving a young lady who can win a debate championship and wield a cricket bat. I know you are desperately going to miss that group of friends, but if your continued connection with Natalie and Indra from babyhood is any indication of your unwaivering dedication and loyalty, you will always be in their lives. I really feel blessed to have finished the Hampton Primary School years with another amazing teacher who has taken each and every individual child in her class over those two years on the journey that best helps them meet and even exceed expectations. She demanded your respect and at every turn you were happy to make her proud.


I know this is just another of many milestones in your life, but it is one I want to commemorate with this open letter acknowledging the good (and hard) times that got you to this day on the stage in your beautiful dress and fancy braids. Dad and I are so proud of you and we are so grateful to all the people who have helped shape your education journey so far. I just wanted to make sure I acknowledge and thank them all in some small way because sending your child off for thousands of hours away from home to lay a solid foundation for life with trusted strangers is one of the hardest things to do as a parent.


Sometimes the days drag on, but the years fly and while I am sad to see the time at primary school end, I know that you are ready for the next set of challenges and experiences. As we go we will gather up all the pieces of history that have made you who you are today and carry them with us. Don’t worry if you drop some, I am right behind you to collect them and my dear prim Gemma, my heart is not only roomy but attached to my sleeve with industrial strength stitching. You should know that by now. You have always been independent and ready for the next thing and like forever, I am here to embarrass you with my public display of affection and enthusiasm. I’m not fooled, I know you love just as passionately… on the inside.

XOXO,
Mom (You can write it any way you like.)

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