Evan started his first day of fourth grade today. 4th. Really. I can precisely remember starting fourth grade, and I can say that my parents weren’t nearly as young and cool as Evan’s. Or maybe they were. They didn’t embarrass me by helping me carry in the bags of crap the teachers made us all buy like we did to Evan this morning. Then again, the teachers didn’t make us buy all of the crap back them. Evan’s school supply list was like we were stocking them up for a nuclear disaster. Headphones and a jump drive. A paint shirt and gym uniform. 5 single subject notebooks of different colors, an accordian file with 8 pockets–not 7 or 9–8. Crayons, colored pencils, and markers. Erasers. 5 composition books and 5 differently colored folders with both pockets and prongs. 3 binders. Scissors and 3 different kinds of glue…The list goes on and on, and that is all of the appropriate stuff. But we also had to provide 3 containers of sanitizing wipes, 6 rolls of paper towels, ziploc bags in 3 different sizes, tissues, a bottle of all-purpose cleaner (?!?)…The end result is that little Ev walked into the building with a backpack that appeared to be loaded down with bricks from the actual notebooks and stuff, while his father and I followed behind with literally grocery bags full of stuff. Dude, I remember getting a new Trapper Keeper every year complete with a new folder for each subject, a few notebooks, pencils, pens, and maybe a couple of boxes of tissues. That’s it.
Evan started 4th grade. I can so remember fourth grade. I seemed so much older than Evan at that age. I remember that was the year we chose to send me to the intermediate school for the district instead of the local elementary school. It was the year I felt so grown because we actually had schedules and switched classes throughout the day as the subjects changed. I had a locker for the first time. That year in gym class was the the first time we were told to shower afterwards, and I remember the dread of having to get undressed in front of my classmates. It’s the year they divided the boys and girls and taught us what would be happening to our bodies, and sent us girls home with a little box complete with samples of feminine hygeine products. That was also the year that I looked like a hunchback in all of my photos: I didn’t want to need to wear a bra, but I did. And for some reason, I thought that wearing really baggy clothes and rolling my shoulders unnaturally forward would hide the fact that I was about a B-cup. Mom would try to buy them for me as we would shop and I would snatch them out of the cart when she wasn’t looking. At some point, I realized it was okay, and I started to wear them. I remember the little white one with the pink rose sewn in the center of the cups. Shortly after I resigned to the fact that I had boobs, Mother Nature visited me for the first time. I didn’t need to have “the talk” because the school had already told me about what to expect. Mom kept me out of school that day as I had cramps for the first time, and we spent the day shopping and going out to lunch. This was also the year I was bumped into the gifted and talented program after the fall round of standardized testing, the year that Mom laughed her head off at the mid-year conferences when they told her that I scored at the post-high-school level on those tests. I still remember her remarks: “Well, hell, then let’s just ship her off to college. Isn’t that what you’re telling me?” That was the year I became “The Smart One” amongst her seven children. Not the Good One like my oldest sister, or the Crazy One like one of my brothers. “That’s Andi”, she would say. “She’s The Baby, the Smart One.” That label followed me until she died. (Incidentally, there is a country song by Blake Shelton called “The Baby”–I would link to it or something but I cannot listen to it without the world crushing in on me. I swear the first time I heard it, I had to research the songwriter because it was as if one of my brothers wrote it about our family, our mom. They even reference Cincinnati in it.)
My feelings of excitement for Evan and his presence on the cusp of so many exciting events mingle with my own sadness. I look at the photos of him and still see the baby he is. The one who fit into the crook of my arm so well, was too stubborn to nurse, kept me awake with his colic for months and months. I still see first steps and smiles, first teeth and first words. Just yesterday, I cried as I watched him timidly walk into the school gym in clothes from Baby Gap, dwarfed by the vastness of the room, as he made his way to his first day of kindergarten. Back when he still thought my warbling, out-of-tune singing voice was the best ever and wouldn’t go to sleep without me singing him at least a couple of songs of his choosing. I haven’t sung a lullabye to him in years, yet it was just yesterday. Now, when I sing along to the radio in the car, he rolls those chocolate brown eyes at my horrendous singing voice as he masks the offending sound with earbuds from his own iPod, complete with his own music to which I cannot stand to listen.
Fourth Grade. Wow. I feel so…old. But just yesterday, we were so young. And Evan was still so new.