Thursday, August 02, 2012

Because I Said So: Facing the new frontier (high school)

C, first day of kindergarten (2003)

I remember the beginning of high school. It's what makes it so difficult to believe that in just a few days my son will be a freshman in high school. I remember all of the larger-than-life worries, the drama, the heartache and unease, the lack of confidence and wonder of it all that I felt then. What a mess.

But perhaps it's different now. Maybe high school, and the ages of 14-17, are fun and simple and carefree these days. I'll just tell myself that because one of the treats of having kids is the chance to see the world through their eyes and to relearn life from their point of view day in and day out. And then they become teenagers and you're left thinking, "This? Again? But I've already done all of this."

When I become nostalgic, it's for an earlier time when I was seven or so and climbing trees in my front yard, riding bikes around the neighborhood and wasting time in front of three channels. If I have to go back, send me there. Or to the year I turned 40. Forty isn't so bad. But not high school, thank you. I'll take 1977 over 1987 any day.

As my oldest child stares down into the maw of high school, I take a look back for today's Because I Said So column to his first day of kindergarten (it seems like only yesterday) and find I owe a debt of gratitude to the great teachers he's had over the years. I wish I could have listed them all in today's paper, each one deserves it. He's a good kid and will do just fine at White Station High School, but as he registers and gets his notebooks and pens and lunch together, I can't help think to myself, "Better you than me, kid."

Facing the new frontier (high school)
Around this time in 2003 we started going to Downtown Elementary School. (This is how parents talk: "We" go to Richland Elementary or White Station Middle or Downtown Elementary. I haven't sat in a formal classroom setting since the late 1980s, but no matter; at some point it just becomes simpler to explain our kids' activities as a collective.)
Nine years ago we began school when I dropped my oldest son, Calvin, off for kindergarten. I'd been taking him to day care every single day for years and it had not gone well. Those mornings were full of screaming and clinging and pleading and teeth gnashing, by the both of us. I had little hope that day one of kindergarten would be much better.
But something happened that day and I don't even know if it was him or me or his new teacher, Mrs. Porter, but I got lucky. She and I stood talking for longer than normal due, no doubt, to my need for reassurance. The point came when Calvin seemed to grow so tired of standing around listening to us with his oversized backpack and overwhelming curiosity weighing him down that he wandered off by himself to find his assigned seat. There were no tears and only a wave of his hand in farewell. Thus began his educational career.
That little boy who surprised me that day with his courage and initiative and impatience with long-winded adults will walk into his first day of high school next week. I won't be there with him because that's just not how it's done at this stage and age. There will be no reassurance from his teacher (for me), no handholding, no oversized backpack. All I can hope is that we've done a good job through these first nine years of school, that he's taken to heart the lessons taught by Mrs. Porter and Mr. Scott and Mrs. Erskine and Mrs. Brenneman, and all of the other wonderful teachers who have influenced and guided him over the years.
I try not to write too much about my 14-year-old here; he deserves his privacy. It's a shame too, because in that hour he's not sleeping or eating, he's really quite engaging and funny. But this milestone deserves mention as it is a momentous occasion for our collective, it's the next big adventure in parenting.
As a student at White Station High School, Calvin will be dealing with a workload he has never known; with the constant reminder that every test, every grade, every club joined will have bearing on his college career and then his eventual career. Mixed in with that, there will be peer pressure and driving permits and proms and the whole high school caste system to negotiate. He will face growing pains unlike those that have propelled him to his nearly 6-feet tall.
It's a time I wouldn't wish on anyone, and yet I'm willingly sending my child into that roiling, bubbling gumbo of uncertainty.
We begin high school next week. Wish us well.

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