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A year of growing and learning

Our year of firsts turned into our year of lasts this week, as kindergarten drew to a close.

The first bus ride, the first day of school, the first cafeteria lunch, the first show-and-tell, the first field trip . . . they all are memories now. Our 6-year-old -- now seasoned at these things -- today begins her first official summer vacation.

"Mom, yesterday was our last Monday. Today is our last Tuesday. Tomorrow is our last Wednesday. Thursday is our last Thursday, and then it is Friday and we are done!" she announced Tuesday morning.

And what a year it was. She learned about the seasons, insects, plants, farm animals, zoo animals, coins, presidents, ecology, authors, numbers, the solar system and so much more. She read stories, wrote stories, listened to stories. She compiled journals. She sang, danced, skipped, ran, played and painted. She learned how to say "hello" in more than a half-dozen languages. And that is just the beginning.

Along the way she learned new rules, followed new routines, made new friends and picked up new jokes, phrases and tones of voice to try out at home.

Back in September, when she got off the bus at the end of the day, she needed to be held and hugged a few minutes. Now, she jumps off eager to play.

Our house became a kindergartener's house. Backpack on one doorknob. Tomorrow's outfit on another. Artwork and important memos clipped to the refrigerator. Library books in a designated basket. School papers in a special drawer.

Phone numbers, I learned, are a big thing in kindergarten. Many days, she came home with a classmate's phone number scribbled on a piece of paper stuffed into her backpack.

Grand plans, these children made. One day not too long ago, I found our daughter holding the portable phone in one hand, a friend's phone number in the other -- ready to dial, until I stopped her. It was 6:30 a.m.

Another day, she pulled an elastic ponytail holder out of her backpack after school. It belonged to a classmate.

"She said I can keep it," our daughter said.

Kindergarten became part of me, too. The songs she sings are the ones that play over and over again in my head. I had her school schedule memorized, and only once did I forget to pack her a morning snack. I met the parents of her classmates. Now, there's a whole new ring of people to bump into at the supermarket.

It's been a tough year in many ways, too. Her grandmother died the month before school began; her grandfather, early this spring. Our daughter also learned you don't get invited to every birthday party, and that strep throat keeps you home from school.

Still, she blossomed. When she grows up, she wants to be a teacher, she tells us. And doesn't that say something about her own -- and kindergarten teachers everywhere?

I recently read again the famous words written by Robert Fulghum, from "All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten."

Among the important lessons: Share everything. Play fair. Don't hit people. Put things back where you found them. Clean up your own mess. Say you're sorry when you hurt somebody. When you go out into the world, watch for traffic, hold hands and stick together.

These basics last a lifetime and apply as much to adulthood as to childhood.

I know there will be milestones, memories and, yes, even bumps along the way in the school years ahead.

But I also know that there will never be another year quite like kindergarten.