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Dan Conradt First school year down, 12 more to go

One of my favorite pictures of my son Steven almost didn’t happen.

It was taken nine months ago, the 25th exposure on a roll of 24.

If you didn’t know it was him, it could have been any little boy between the ages of 4 and 8. His back was turned to the camera, and the image was blurred slightly because he was running away from us.

He was running toward a playground teeming with 350 other kids, while dozens of apprehensive parents looked on.

Not a great picture technically, but it captured a mood.

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The first day of kindergarten.

In the blink of an eye, it was over. Not just the day, but the year. I don’t know where the time went, but last week Steven and I walked hand-in-hand out of the school for the last time; he was a first grader-to-be and I was a proud parent.

We are both different people than we were nine months ago.

On the night his school year ended, we sat on the couch and paged through Steven’s copy of a three-ring binder his teacher kept for all the kids in his class during the year.

It’s a collection of self portraits, printing exercises, class photographs and simple math problems that chronicles each child’s progress during the year.

The change was there in black and white.

Midway through the year, the 3s were no longer backward. The last two letters in "Steven" stayed with the first four, rather than dangling down the side of the page as he ran out of room. The coloring stayed inside the lines.

There was something else in that book. Maturity. A level of self-confidence that wasn’t there before.

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I closed the binder and asked Steven what he knows now that he didn’t know before be started kindergarten. His answer was simple: He didn’t know that someone who studies dinosaurs is called a paleontologist (I’m impressed by anyone who can correctly use a six-syllable word in a sentence, regardless of how old they are) and he doesn’t like chocolate milk.

Kindergarten in a nutshell, though I suspect there’s more to it than that. I was one of those apprehensive parents on the first day of school. My heart told me I didn’t want my little boy to change, but my head told me it was inevitable.

He has changed, and it’s been a good change. When Steven was about 2, I commented to a friend that this was my favorite age, and I’d like him to stay 2 years old for a while longer. That veteran parent told me that your child’s "favorite" age will always be whatever age he or she is at the time.

Steven’s first day of kindergarten was my "favorite age." So was his last day.

I put Steven to bed on the eve of summer vacation, and as he drifted off to sleep, I paged through his kindergarten binder again. The title page is pastel green, and kid-like letters spelled out something profound: "Look for Improvement, Not Perfection." Good advice if you’re learning how to make your 3s the right way, or learning to raise a child.

Some of Steven’s kindergarten classmates he’ll never see again. Some will become lifelong friends.

Some of those kids may grow up to be doctors. Or teachers. Or parents who will one day take blurry pictures of their own 5-year-olds racing away on the first day of kindergarten. But I’ve learned that when you’re running away from one thing, you’re running toward something else.

Get ready, World. The Class of 2019 is on the way.

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Dan Conradt, a lifelong Mower County resident, lives in Austin with his wife, Carla Johnson, and their son.

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