See, I’m not the dad who fussed too much in the weeks leading to my oldest daughter becoming a high schooler. Why? Well, the inevitability is a factor. It’s not as if I can keep her from high school (short of just not dropping her off).
Me keeping her home to watch Ghost Adventures with me wouldn’t make me any less old.
It won’t grind to a halt the tumbleweed of progress, and I’d have to tote her around town to her menial job five days a week. Dads don’t worry about such eventualities until they’re right on us, like a heart attack.
Or a bad rash gone rogue.
Or a kid who realizes his behavior for the substitute teacher will bring consequences when the regular teacher returns. Maybe we just don’t weigh the consequences until the water boils, the tire pops, or the vertical seam of our pants splits.
I drove this suddenly big kid to high school.
I needed to clutch my chest, scratch my belly, put my head down on the steering wheel, all while I rushed to turn off the stove, keep the car from careening off the road and holding the two halves of my split pants together.
Five (convenient, I know, for Five for Friday blogging purposes – thanks, Jesus) fears decided to take Turn 1 in my head five-wide at 180 mph just at the moment I turned onto the driveway of Elise’s new school on her first day of ninth grade.
1. The workload.
It was no picnic to start high school for me.
I had a sweet gig in Colorado. From my sophomore year at Greeley West, with kids I’d known since kindergarten, including one, Marco, with whom I shared a birthday. From the same hospital, even.
I’m fairly sure we weren’t switched at birth. Fairly.
Dad moved us to Charlotte, the family who’d never been as far east as Kansas before moving vans arrived. I had to adjust to a new climate and attitudes and answers in Spanish class that translated “Como esta usted?” to “KOH-moh es-TAH oo-STAY-id?”
Face the ridicule of rooting for Wyoming in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.
Having to answer questions about what I “was” – (I *knew* you were somethin’!” they’d answer when they’d quizzed me about what in the world my heritage could possibly be.) Oh, yeah, Elise.
I looked at her backpack, already bulging at the seams with binders and work books and a rock-breaking pick ax for manual labor. (What happened to the days of one Trapper Keeper and a handful of O-Pee-Chee folders, anyone?),
I cursed a school that burdens her with mounds of homework of outrageous difficulty and unreasonable time frames and when can she sleep or relax and unwind with a life that doesn’t consist of homework on top of homework on top of …
Then I realized she hadn’t been to her first class yet.
I’ve seen enough After School Specials. I know how it works. The girl with the big hair has cigarettes from her big sister, and she offers one behind the gym. Or, the overnight party that used to involve giggling and too much sugar suddenly graduates to boy talk.
And a joint.
Or the cool senior who has tattoos, drives too fast, and thinks it’s cool to not listen to her dad. Is it wrong for me to hope she won’t take a puff or a drag or grasp the car door with the grip of life while her friend breaks the sound barrier on the road out of school?
Or that she’ll try to hide a new nose ring or one of the One Direction boys’ names tattooed on her ankle?
Last year, she shared the school with kindergarten kids and her hall with 12-year-olds, not kids who can buy Marlboro Lights and hold a driver’s license. Just say “no,” Elise, just like we practiced when you were 4. You remember that, don’t you?
Maybe we should have done it again at 7 and 11, too.
Schools are where bad things happen. Newtown, Conn., reminded us all of that. I’m a Colorado kid. So, Columbine hits close to home. On “Leave It To Beaver”, when the fellas are giving Beaver the business, his retort was, always “aw, cut it out, guys.”
These days, the Beave might just as likely bring a pistol to school, or start bullying classmates on Facebook., or create a hate page about the kid who teased him – and then follow it up with some explosives in his backpack for gym class.
Is there a kid on the brink in her midst?
Has someone pushed someone else just to that point where they start having thoughts of manifestos and firearms and imitating what they’ve seen in the news? And I thought kindergarten drop off was tough.
4. Boys, who think they’re men.
I’m not foolish enough to believe that should Elise make it through high school unscathed by my gender, she’s home free.
“Boys who think they’re men” can apply at age 17, 27, 37, 47, 57, and probably 67. But now they’re out there, years older than my daughter, a twisted mess of hormones and media influence and song lyrics and movies and TV shows and all sorts of motivation.
They’re at the least, ambitious, at the worst, cocky.
At the least, persuasive, at the worst, insincere. I know, I know, at one time, I was once a boy, too. I wasn’t awful, but I wasn’t perfect. Closer to perfect than awful, of course.
5. Those big kids. With car keys.
The sit in their cars, too cool to wait for the bell outside with the underclassmen.
They have plans, secrets, experiences and more plans. They’ll want Elise to ride with them, hang out, go to the movies, and cruise, with all those teenage voices in high volume and intensity, texting and talking and are they really watching where they’re going?
When it’s all here on the screen, it reads a little … I don’t know, psychotic.
Almost two months into the school year, things are fine. The workload’s been tough, and grades a bit of a struggle, but we’re getting it. Hopefully. There’s been no cigarette-smoke-smelling clothes and just one school lock down.
There have been no smooth-talking boys who’ve jammed her frequencies or invitations to “ride around” with the older kids.
She’ll need to struggle in a class and ask for help. To worry about a grade for once. That if she truly doesn’t understand her homework, she can also raise her hand and slow things down and try to really, really get it.
She isn’t likely to befriend reckless people. She’s shown us that so far.
Every day I take her to school, there might be a subject, or a teacher, or even a boy who sits next to her that will change her life forever. Through occasional mood swings and petulance (mostly hers, but sometimes mine) that this is the time she needs me most.
I remember, above all, that I believe in her.