Daughter will be graduated from high school this week, and I cannot tell you how conflicted I am about this. Some say "will be graduating" is preferable, and others say "will graduate" is sufficient. What about "is graduating"? I cry out in a shriek of grief. Is that OK?
Hmm, you think. You're channeling all your emotion about the event into something trivial, no doubt to avoid dealing with this enormous change. Gee, thanks Dr. Freud, here's my copay.
Of course I am drowning my sorrows with pedantic grammar, and I bet I'm not the only one. Somewhere there's a parent thinking, "It seems like yesterday that we were waiting in line for the kindergarten bus." And then another parent says, "You mean waiting on line," and the other replies, "Do I look British? Are we going to go queue for aluminium and put it in the car boot? I've never liked you and now I'm glad there's no reason we have to be polite when we run into each other at school."
It's a time of raw emotion, in other words. The good thing, though, is that it doesn't feel like it was just yesterday that the kindergarten bus came and she walked up the steep steps with jaunty pride. It feels like it's been a very long time, which is why it's OK that it's over, he said with a strained smile and a twitching eyelid.
All those milestones! At first, you meet the bus when it returns and walk hand-in-hand back to the house. Then one day the kid is old enough not to take your hand — you never know whether this is a major change in a behavioral pattern or just a one-day aberration, and that's just as well; something inside of you would have said, "Smear some Super Glue on your palm tomorrow" just to make sure you have one more time.
Then you don't meet the bus, because Daughter knows the way back home. Because you are irrational, your heart ticks up a bit if she's a tad late. Either the bus was a minute late, or two ninja kidnappers rappelled down from the trees and snatched her up.
That's ridiculous. They wouldn't work in pairs, there'd just be one.
Oh, that's ridiculous. There are no ninja kidnappers. The bus just went into a ravine, that's all.
Some days — well, OK, all of them — you watch from the window around bus time. The dog sees her coming and wags his tail; he's old, and that's about all he has left in the tank. You make the hot chocolate, because that's the post-school ritual, a good way to say welcome home. "Here! It's good and hot."
"Thanks! But it's June, and I'm a senior."
You drink it anyway, just for old times' sake.
Grade school lasts forever, it seems, and they're so grown up when they're done. They entered as leaky little clumsy bipeds and come out the other end as chatty little citizens eager for the next adventure. Alas, that's middle school — the awkward time between the heedless joy of elementary school and the stressed, brain-in-a-blender years to come.
Middle school lasts approximately 45 minutes, if memory serves.
The first year of high school is when parents start to think beyond the routines and habits of life, because now you have an expiration date on your daily life together. It hits you: Only four more last-day-hurrahs-for-summer. Only four more photos on the first day, dressed in the mode of the year, each photo showing a child who's taller, unmistakably yours, ineffably different. Only four more spring breaks in which you are begged to take them to a sunny resort beach — and then told to pretend you don't know them.
C'mon, relax. Four years. That's a long, long time.
Remember the old TV show "Mission: Impossible"? It began with a hand lighting a fuse, which sparkled and flamed as it ran through brief scenes from the show to come. It was over in a minute.
That's high school, to a parent.
The day before the last day of school, Daughter threw away one of her notebooks from a class she didn't really love, the way she loved reading and writing and art. Numbers were involved. Symbols. Equations. All those things you have to learn and never use. It's not like there's some horrible wreck or disaster and someone screams, "Who knows calculus? For God's sake, we need some calculus over here!"
The density of the notebook's entries was astonishing. I know she studied hard and got good grades, but this level of attention to something outside her interests was remarkable, and heartening. She never knew, when laboring over these endless inscriptions, that one day Dad would see them and think, "What a metaphor for all the private details that elapsed over the last 13 years. The things we never knew, the things you can't know. That would be a good place to end a column."
But it's not. It doesn't end, even though it's over. For years the clock will tick to 3:15, and you'll think: "School's over. The bus has brought her home; the door will soon open." As much as it pains you to think you'll always feel the pull of that moment, it pains you more to think of the day when you don't.
email@example.com • 612-673-7858 • Twitter: @Lileks • facebook.com/james.lileks