School Days

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This week Julia began her last year of preschool and as I packed her new pink lunchbox with a turkey and cheese sandwich and bottle of apple juice I must admit that my heart was heavy. We love her teachers, one of whom I have known since childhood, but in beginning this next chapter without Wesley I’m ever more aware of the passage of time and his pointed absence. A bright line drawn between what’s behind and what’s before us. Last year Wesley packed the lunches, took Julia to school in the morning and was a true parenting partner. I feel unqualified to be a single parent and to succeed in this daunting task. I fear I might flunk this exam but I’m committed to studying hard for this.
The two pictures above were taken exactly one year apart. I especially smile at the picture from last year and Julia’s shorter than expected haircut. Wesley was insistent that he give Julia her first haircut and we agreed that he could trim it to her shoulders. He sat her on the tall stool in the kitchen, scissors in hand while I fretted and worried behind him. Julia looked straight ahead and sat very still as Wesley made the first cut. He turned to me, smiling proudly and exclaimed, “Look, right at her shoulder!” Then Julia dropped the shoulder that she had scrunched up to her ear without us realizing it and the hair quickly transformed into more of a chin length bob. Not much room between her chin and shoulder any way, and it was especially cute. A bit of a Depression-era waif look.
Julia has grown up so much this year, in the obvious ways of lengthening limbs and expanded vocabulary but in the ways that are not so apparent. She is four, but yet she is not. Her knowledge of mortality is too concrete and in many ways the innocence and bliss that should accompany her chronological age is not as clear as it is to many of her peers. She worries that people we meet for the first time will not know her Daddy is in Heaven and wants to be sure I tell them. I am careful that if someone is sick, that I reiterate that they only have a cough and a sneeze because her Daddy got sick too and is now gone. Phones do not “die” when they lose power, they “need the battery charged.” The list of vocabulary shifts, explanations and reassurances that other children don’t need is endless. But that is our life together. We have changed and are finding our new way.
But over and again I’m drawn to the photographs we have in our home. Wesley was a prolific photographer and had a keen vision through his camera lens to capture the moments missed by many. The quiet conversation between my 95 year old grandmother and her namesake, Julia; my parent’s dog nuzzled against the grandchildren both pet and protector. I mourn that Julia will have moments not captured in such a beautiful way through Wesley’s eye. I mourn that my pictures looks forced compared to his effortless grace and beauty. I mourn that Wesley was often behind the camera, but it makes finding his smiling face in a photo that much more precious now.
In the coming months Julia will write her name with more confidence, she will start to put letters together to form words and the love of reading will take off, I pray and she will continue to add and subtract on her little fingers. I’m sad that Wesley will miss these exciting educational advances, but grateful that together we planted those seeds of learning and love. The love grows…
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