My two high schoolers go back to school tomorrow. My oldest will be a Junior. My middle child will be starting ninth grade. My youngest will be in sixth grade but he doesn't go back until after Labor Day. This year they will all be going to different schools, two of them on buses, one walking, all leaving the house at different times. We've bought supplies, cleaned out backpacks, and made sure everyone has a key to the house. I've set my alarm for the first time in months. I'm not sure what more there is to do but I don't feel like we're really prepared for this shift into a new more intense schedule.
The biggest change will be for my middle child venturing into a new school where she doesn't know anyone. Mona had her two days of freshman orientation last week. She will be in the class of 2022.
From my perspective this feels strange for a few reasons, including the fact that I remember when the idea of the "Year 2000" seemed very far away. All the futuristic stuff when I was a kid was set somewhere after 2000. And now I have children who will be graduating two decades or more into that spacey sounding millennium. (Still no flying cars, though, or even real hover-boards.)
Also, high schoolers seemed very grown-up to me when I was a child, and now of course they seem outrageously young. Even though I didn't feel like an adult at 14 I remember that knowledge of it being the oldest I'd ever been and it seemed like a lot. In many ways I wanted to be autonomous, but it was scary to start really thinking ahead about a future away from my parents and how hopelessly unprepared I was for it. I see my daughters struggling with those ideas now. I'm struggling with it from the other side, thinking ahead to letting them go.
For orientation I walked my daughter to her new school both days, which is about ten minutes from our house and at the other end of our neighborhood park. It's the school my grandpa attended back during the Depression. It's a school that has a troubled reputation but is in transition. It was my daughter's first choice, even though she had lots of possibilities available to her around the city. I'm proud of her for wanting to go to our neighborhood school even though she doesn't know anyone there.
It was hard to leave her there both mornings. It reminded me too much of her first day of kindergarten. Which is funny, because I don't really remember the first days for my other children. I have pictures of Aden with her earnest smile and bejeweled purse posing outside of Head Start downtown when she was three, but I can't remember much about the actual drop off. She loved school, but she usually cried when I left. Did she cry that first day, though? I don't remember. I don't think so. And Quinn's first day? I'm pretty sure I cried. But did he look back at me when it was time for me to go? Or did he wander off into all those Montessori materials and not bat an eye that I was leaving? I don't know anymore.
Mona I remember, though. Everything has always been more extreme with Mona. She always climbed the highest, swam the farthest, and continues to surprise us at every turn. Guiding her has always been my truest test as a parent and not one I often feel I'm passing.
On her first day of kindergarten she clung to me and cried in a way that I didn't feel I could leave her. I ended up sitting with her on the floor outside of her cheerful looking classroom unsure of what to do. Her teacher (to whom I am forever grateful for being on Mona's side so fiercely in her first years of school) came to us in the hall and said the perfect thing:
She started by saying that whatever I wanted to do she would support because I knew my child best. But that in her experience at that moment Mona was in charge and didn't really want to be. She was sure Mona would be fine after I left. And of course she was.
That doesn't change how painful it was to walk away. Leaving your child with other people to a world you are not directly a part of is wrenching. I knew Mona needed to form her own relationships with friends and teachers and that's how it's supposed to be, but it's scary. It felt the same all over again leaving her at the high school, although this time all the tears were mine on the walk home. I just want it all to go well, but I can't control that. I want my baby to be okay.
The orientation turned out to be a bit overwhelming and didn't go as well as my daughter hoped, but she admitted it had nothing to do with the school or the people there. She said everyone was nice. There are amazing opportunities in this high school, such as a mural club and a classroom where they put together an entire race car every year and culinary classes... She's looking forward to French class and a course in computer applications in art which she will rock. All of that is harder to face until you have friends, though. She was acutely aware of that the first day, which was lonely. The second day a couple of kids found ways to introduce themselves and now she feels better.
She's created a beautiful dragon costume out of a hoodie that she plans to wear on her first day. That should send a clear message about who she is and what she's about, and with luck attract people to her side who can appreciate her. I hope it's a good year. For all of us.