Today is the first day of my stepdaughter’s senior year of high school. Senior. Year. Wow. She was 11 when I met her. And now she has finished her first summer of pre-college classes, earning quarter credits toward a degree at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco; her dad’s alma mater. She has a job. And a car. And dreadlocks….of course. The world is her oyster. Oh, to be 17 again.
During the Blue Moon the other night, I woke up around 2 a.m. and went outside to sit in the moonlight. It was so bright I had a full shadow and had to squint my eyes. Earlier that day we had been discussing the long breaks Washoe County School kids seem to have every month now and how we (the parents and grandparents of the group) feel it’s teaching kids to have unrealistic expectations for time off once they enter the real world. Work six weeks, take a week or two off. Right… I’ve taken a full week off three times in my entire career, including the leave of absence I took to complete my chemo induction. Anyway, that led to a discussion about the last time we didn’t have to work and had complete freedom. Mine was the summer I was 17 – right before entering my senior year of high school. I had always had a job during high school but for eight weeks every summer I went back to my dad’s house in Nebraska, free from work, school and pretty much everything else. It was great.
So that night, when I stood in the light of the blue moon, it all came flooding back to me: The summer I was 17. The summer before my whole life changed. I spent my days watching my nephew while my sister was at work and my nights driving the back roads until we found a secluded, sandy spot where we could hang out all night, listening to music, possibly engaging in some extracurriculars from time to time, and just enjoying life…all by the light of the moon. I would roll in a couple of hours before my dad went to work at 7 a.m. and then do it all again the next day. I have never had a more tangible sense of freedom in my life.
I’ve had many of these flashbacks over the summer as I watch my stepdaughter prepare to take this next step in life. So many similarities and yet so many differences (Specifically, if she stayed out until 4 a.m. I would literally choke the life out of her). She is independent, street smart and motivated. She is boy crazy (although she would never admit it), responsible, and dramatic to the Nth degree. But she is also scared and, I think, pretty overwhelmed with what is to come in the next 12 months. We’re a very close family and she thinks that’s going to disappear when she goes to college. She thinks she’s going to have to decide on a career at 18, go to school and get to it, never wavering, never changing her mind. She thinks that the weight of the world will instantly be upon her after high school and that she will be crushed by the responsibility of adulthood. If only I could make her understand that’s not even close to reality. I mean hell…I’m 33 and sometimes I feel like I could change my mind about my career at any moment, start over and not be too far behind any of my peers or colleagues. And I’ve been out of high school for over 15 years. I wish I could make her understand that this is just the beginning. And it’s all up hill from here. She has so much going for her and at this point, she hasn’t done anything to derail her life to the point of non-repair (knock on wood!), so as long as she doesn’t end up married three weeks out of high school like her parents did, she’s pretty much a shoe-in for success. But, like all hard lessons that must be learned by our kids, it’s a lesson she must learn on her own. She must become accustomed to having wings before she can fly. If only we had the power to make our kids feel at home in their skin.
As I’ve watched her grow over these last six years, I’ve seen her roller coaster up and down and around again. From an 11-year-old who thought she was 35, to a 14-year-old walking nightmare, to a 16 year-old who despised me, to a 17 year-old on again, off again (mostly on) nice human being, she’s gone on quite a ride. And although we are a close family, we’re far from typical and it’s been a big adjustment for all of us – especially her – everybody’s favorite who could get away with murder but now must face life as it is, no favoritism included.
That being said, I look forward to watching her come into her own in the next year. Such excitement and opportunity lies ahead of her. So much fun and so many adventures. This isn’t the beginning, it’s the prologue. It gets so, so, so much better from here. And in 11 months when she graduates from high school, I hope she sees it as a springboard to achieving her dreams (remembering that it doesn’t have to happen overnight). I hope she remembers it as one of the best days if her life. Not the scariest. I hope she sees the wide open world as hers to conquer, while knowing she always has a place to come home to whenever she wants but that she likely won’t need to. Because I know that while there are lots of hard times for her ahead, with hard work and a stiff upper lip, she’ll be just fine (if dad and grandma can manage to let go ;D ). She will come into her own and become the successful human being I have been pushing her to be since the day I met her.
So while most of my blogger buddies are taking pictures of the first day of 4th grade and wiping away tears as they drop their babies at the first day of kindergarten, remember, it will all be over in a flash. Pretty soon, they’ll be off to their last “first day of school.” But remember, you’re a good parent, and that means you’re capable of creating a good human. Have confidence in yourself (especially through the hellatious teen years when punishments are nearly constant) and know that when the end is near, it’s really only the beginning.
Happy First Day of School, Parents!