It was silent in the car during most of the 25-minute drive to my son’s out-of-town high school for freshman orientation. He was reading a book that he was supposed to have finished during the summer, “but I don’t really have to have it done until Friday, mom. That’s the first real day of school.” I had told him he’d need to make significant progress on the book or I wouldn’t feel good about letting him go to a pool party that night (with local friends who didn’t start school for another week). I did not repeat the admonition about being unprepared for your first day of high school that I had delivered periodically during the summer – it had become clear to me that there are some lessons he is going to have to learn for himself, regardless of how painful or humbling they might be.
I’d had my “first day of high school” at the parent orientation two evenings prior. It was a little daunting to descend into the gymnasium among hundreds of other people: I only saw one person I recognized (from my volunteer bingo job that started during the summer) even though there are a few other kids from our town attending this school. To top it off, as I pushed my sunglasses to the top of my head, I realized I had left my regular glasses in the car so I really couldn’t see the “big picture.” I picked up a packet of information and wandered around from table to table set up behind the sea of folding chairs and discovered that there were representatives on hand to talk about carpooling, volunteering, and lunch accounts. Soon, we were ushered to the seats to hear presentations from various school representatives that loosely correlated with the pages of forms we’d been given. I imagined it would probably be the same for my son but decided I wouldn’t interrupt his reading to give him any sort of pep talks about “just showing up,” which is how I had encouraged myself the other night.
Frowning, I poked at the GPS and griped, “I don’t know why this thing can’t find any satellites today!” as I attempted to re-set our destination. It’s not like I didn’t know where we were going, I have just become accustomed to the reassuring arrival time updates and equanimous and non-judgmental way the GPS guides me, which is kind of what I needed given how tight my stomach was and how shallowly I was breathing.
At the stop light just before the school I pulled my son close and kissed the top of his head. He laughed. I told him, “I don’t want to embarrass you in front of anyone,” since he has admitted to me that sometimes I do, in fact, embarrass him, “like that time you came up and talked to me on the bench (before a baseball game) about my snack,” but I tend to think my presence at any time in any place might soon be unwelcome.
We pulled up alongside the school and were directed to stop beyond the point where the photographer was taking quasi-candid pictures of kids getting out of their cars. “Good, I didn’t want my picture taken anyway!” And of course I knew that were taken from behind or included my kids hiding their faces, which is why I didn’t even make an attempt, consoling myself with the fact that he’d be having his school picture taken that day anyway. I seemed to be the only one who thought this milestone was significant; my son was still lamenting that his hometown friends (and siblings) didn’t start school for another week.
“Bye honey. I hope you have a great day. I love you.”
“I love you, too, Mom.”
And then he turned around and disappeared into the throng of other freshmen steaming into the gymnasium.
Periodically during the day I imagined what he might be doing. Would there be people he knew in any of his classes? What was for lunch? Was he going to be sorry he didn’t finish that book? Is it time to go pick him up yet?
At 2:30 he texted me. “Where R U?”
“In the parking lot towards the baseball field.” (I had remained in the car in order to be as invisible as possible).
“I don’t C U.”
“I’ll get out and stand behind the car.”
When he saw me he gave an almost-undetectable wave.
I noticed that he, too, had been given and information packet. As he approached the car he loosened his tie and freed the top button of his shirt.
“How was it?” I asked as we both got into the car.
He leaned back in the passenger seat, sighed, and announced, “Mom, my childhood is over.”