Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Hello, High School

After what felt like the shortest summer on record, I dropped my daughter off at high school this morning. Well, technically I dropped her off at the community center down the hill from the high school. It may have been raining. She may have been nervous. But, she sure as Shinola wasn't going to be seen getting out of her mom's car. 

C'mon, she's not a kid anymore.

She had many many questions. Were the seniors (who were driving around town honking their horns early this morning) going to pick on the freshmen? Was the Honors English teacher really going to give them a quiz on David Copperfield? Should she have worn shorts instead of jeans? What if she got lost between Bio and Music in a Digital World? What if she didn't know anyone in her classes? What if she didn't have anyone to sit with at lunch? 

What if ... ? What if ... ? What if ... ?

I had just one question. Where did the years go?

We dropped her off at school for the first time twelve years ago. I have a picture of my tiny girl in an adorable "Back to School" dress with a little backpack and patent leather Mary Janes. She was thrilled to start preschool, and I pretty much kept it together. (The one thing that triggered a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes was the sight of a row of little coat hooks with names above them outside her classroom.)

The picture-taking (if not the lump and tears) remains a tradition. I always say, "Wait, I have to take a picture for Grandma," but in reality the photo is as much for me as anyone. This morning's was shot on our back patio next to the tomato plants that are already dwindling away — another sign that summer is over. My daughter looked cool in a "High school? No big deal," kinda way. Jeans, a loose geometric top over a skinny tank, multicolored Converse sneakers. She's wearing a barrette on one side. Our attempt to give her poker straight hair a bit of a wave by braiding it last night was pretty much an epic fail.

Nevertheless, she was there bright and early, gathering some friends and her courage and ready (or "ready or not") for it all to begin.

One thing I have learned is that it is absolutely of no use whatsoever to relate your teen's current trials and tribulations to your own history. (Or, should I say "ancient history?") I try to remember if I was nervous about starting high school myself. But our experiences are not apples-to-apples. 

She's going into a fairly large, suburban, co-ed school. I went to a quite small test school in a big city, which had been single-sex for more than a century. 

She's an active, free spirit who would rather muck out a stall than crack open a textbook. I was a bit of a nerd who preferred classes to practically anything else. Honestly. Family lore often recounts my sorrow when other kids, friends from my mother's midwest home state, got to go back to school two weeks before I did. I would sit on my grandmother's front porch and watch the school bus go by and pout.

There are so many things I hope she'll learn in the next four years. Specific subject matter, of course. How to ace her SATs and get into a great college, certainly. But, more importantly, that cliques matter less than individual people. That you can try new things. That maybe you are good at something that you never even imagined. That you can work toward goals. That you can solve problems, make smart choices sometimes and learn from mistakes others. That if you focus on all of this, your confidence will catch up to your competence, and things like the first day of high school won't be quite so scary anymore.

Were I to explain any of the above to my daughter, she would have even less faith in my ability to relate to her life than she already does.

Which, let me assure you, ain't much. After all, she's in high school now. She's not a kid anymore.

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