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Dear Parents:

A letter to the parents at my kids’ alma mater, Minnetonka High School:
Today is the first day in 17 years I haven’t had the first day of school dash. I (sort of) envy you all! If it’s your first day of high school, know that there are so many moments ahead — great and awful. Sorry, but it’s true. Always remember it’s the bad stuff that gives us the perspective to know what is truly awesome. It’s those eye-rolling “you don’t understand” heated discussions that make you cherish those times when you find them watching a Pixar movie they adored as a kiddo, and ask you to sit down and watch too.
 
BTW: the school is not that big once you get to know it (do friendly presence and see for yourself), they really don’t need lockers or coats to survive, and every kid’s path is the right one. Don’t let anyone tell you differently: I refused to allow my daughter to take more than two honors classes her freshman year, and some gasped. The teachers and counselors thought I was brilliant. She graduated honors roll every quarter, with tons of AP and IB. My other one? Barely graduated, in part because “they” told me he had to do honors classes and it screwed his path up. He’s good now, but his academic career would’ve been better if I had listened to my gut. Listen to yours. But know you will make mistakes. It’s cool.
 
If you are sending your last one off on their senior year: yes, you will say “last time” a lot this year. Don’t dwell: enjoy. If you see a lot of your kid, that’s great. If you have to ask for proof of life snapchats because they are so busy soaking in all the lasts, that’s fantastic, even if it doesn’t feel that way.  It means they are ready. And when they are finally gone, it makes the emptiness seem normal!
Encourage them to do EVERYTHING.
Take risks — pick the college that you have never heard of, rather than the one everyone is attending, if it is the right one.  If it ends up not being the right one, change schools.
Make mistakes: better to learn how to recover from them at home than without the family safety net. Tell them it’s ok if they don’t know what they want to do: 95% of the kids who say they do, don’t. Or will change their mind. That’s fine. If they want to learn a trade, let them. They will be financially well off and always employed (seriously: I have people from three different blue collar trades coming to my house this week. They will be handsomely paid and I will fawn over them when they fix what I could not. Think about it).
Tell them to go to the dance/the party/the concert/the play/the game.  Ask that guy/girl out.  If it sucks, it was one night they’ll never remember.  If it is awesome, it just might be that one night they will never forget.
 
And you?
 
Hang out with friends. Take a class. Talk with your spouse. No spouse? Do something you’ve always wanted to do but a significant other might’ve gotten in the way. Do not wait until the kids are gone to start filling those empty spaces. We are so busy every weekend that we rarely miss the kids. I mean, I would kill to hear my daughter sing, but that’ll come (she’ll gig over winter break at Excelsior Brewing Company — watch for my pathetically excited posts). I’ll visit her for parents’ weekend in Nashville in a couple weeks. She’s coming home for Homecoming. My son will return for a visit in October from Seattle, and we’re taking him and his buddy to Vegas in November for the first time.
Sure, I miss them.  But as much as I love them, I don’t need them. And they don’t need me the same way anymore. And it’s okay.
 
So enjoy the frenzy. Take the pictures. Hope that they tell you more than “it was fine” when you ask about their day later — whether face to face or via text (both are ok). You do you. They will do they. And you will all have a great year!
Go Tonka!

And she’s gone

It’s the morning we move Singer Girl into her dorm, and into her new life.  She’s in the bathroom getting ready, when suddenly — just like she always has — she starts singing.

Everything stops.

No idea when I’ll get that spontaneous joy again. At home she always asked me to not listen. I lied and said I couldn’t hear her.  I think she knew I lied. As long as we kept up the charade all was cool.

Now I couldn’t pretend anymore.  It would be true — I would still be listening, but I wouldn’t hear her.

The night before, as we were wandering her effingly beautiful campus, she offhandedly remarked that this will be her only “first day of school” picture without Santa Bear. I doubled over like someone had punched me. UGH.

The months preceding this moment have been like walking on a Minnesota pond in early December: the ice might hold, it might not, so every step you hold your breath, listening for the subtle cracking, desperate to avoid the violence of a cold water bath.  I learned that we only talked about things in tiny morsels, and if/when she freaked, I shut up.  I dunno if it was the right way to handle things.  But that’s true of every step of parenting: you gotta rely on instinct most of the time.  You MacGyver through things, hoping that a paper clip, playing card and some chewing gum will get you through successfully.

As we got closer to the actual departure date, I grew a bit more frantic, knowing that there were things that needed to be done — didn’t every Facebook parent group keep telling me what I had to do? I had the checklists, and we discussed them.  I said she didn’t need a steamer, she ordered one anyway, then decided to return it.  Was I wrong to not get the famous Ikea blue bags? (Nah — we didn’t need them).  Should I send her with her original Social Security Card or a copy? (settled for copy).

The night before she left, we hosted one last sleepover.  HWSNBN thought I was nuts.  I knew it would be an added layer of stress, but it would be worth it.  I think it was also for me.  As I looked at the pile of shoes strewn by the door, I knew it would be a long time until I saw that mess again.  Her leaving was the end of something more than just no kids in the house — it was the end of my day to day job for the past 21 years.  I had been laid off.  But that’s another post…

The kids had a ball — scarfing crap, drumming and singing and being very loud all night long.  I told everyone they had to be gone by 8am, as we were leaving for the airport at 9am.  It was a slow, slow morning.  I tried to give them all space, but as the clock ticked I finally had to rip off the bandaid.  They all trudged upstairs, and convened in the driveway.

The girls clustered around her, laughing and crying and saying they couldn’t believe it.  The boys stood awkwardly to the side, trying not to get emotional, discussing cars.  I overheard the band’s bass player, a giant of a guy, semi-joking that this he might actually cry for the first time in years. I stood in the garage, out of sight, watching, crying, grateful that she had this group and praying that this wouldn’t be too hard.

After most of the friends left, Drummer Boy stuck around.  My stomach was in knots. They went back downstairs to get the rest of her things.  They looked shattered.  At 8:45 I finally stood outside her door and said “honey, it’s time.”

She yelled through the door “NO!”

But she came out.  He carried her suitcase for her.  They clung to each other, and he left.  My heart ached for them.

It was finally time to go.  We loaded 6 suitcases and 5 carry ons into the uber, and we were off.  At the airport, there was another mom and daughter wearing t shirts from her college.  I wanted to say hi.  Singer Girl looked at me like she would cut a bitch.  To keep the peace, I bit my tongue.  I posted on the college’s parent page instead, and gave the gal a virtual hello.  No idea if she heard me…

On the flight, I couldn’t stop staring at my baby, touching her.  Remember that first time you are alone with your newborn in the hospital, and all you do is gaze at them?  Yeah.  It was like that.  I couldn’t keep my hands off of her either — which would’ve been fine except her arm was sore from one of the last minute vaccinations I made her get, and I kept forgetting.  Nothing like pressing on a bruise to make someone remember you (now that I think of it, it’s all like pressing a bruise, isn’t it? Little, constant, painful reminders of the passage of time.  Blech.  Very maudlin.).

To her credit, she actually seemed to find my frantic devotion cute.  She humored me all weekend long when I had spontaneous attacks of leaky eyes (yes, I packed waterproof mascara).

My biggest fear about her leaving was that she wouldn’t enjoy it.  She was soooo unexcited, whereas I remember being so pumped I don’t remember anything about moving in.  I mean, I know my parents were there, but my strongest memories of the first day of college was meeting my roommate and choosing wear to hang my Van Halen poster (sorry Mom).

Move in was fun and busy and exciting and exhausting.  I thrive with a project and organizing is like oxygen to me.  It’s the one thing I KNOW she got from me.  I also recognized the process, and her need to make this her space.  I asked her opinion and permission on everything, even though I of course knew how it should be done.  HWSNBN stood floundering in a sea of boxes and packaging.  I pulled him aside and said “just do what she says and no one will get hurt.” That evening he looked at me, stunned, and revealed he had no idea move in would be so exhausting.  I reminded him that the last time he handled a college move he removed the screen from his second floor apartment window and threw his belongings into the back of a pickup.

We had planned to stick around until Sunday (moved her in on a Friday) as we were so far away and knew she would need to run errands.  After move in, we went to dinner then shopped a little — she finally agreed that naked cinder block walls were not attractive.  We found a big wall hanging, and we agreed to pick her up in the morning and do some more shopping.  By the end of the weekend, we had done Office Max, Kroger’s,  Home Depot, Urban Outfitters, Bed Bath & Beyond and Target (twice).

On campus the school had arranged barbecues and concerts and speeches.  I cried at everything.  She patted my arm and grinned.  Every now and then I saw a spark of excitement — although she would never admit it when I asked her about it.  She would reveal things slowly.  She and her roomate had wandered around the first night meeting people.  On the second night she did the same with other people.  After a week there, she was “out with friends.”

Good news bad news: we never hear from her.  I am trying to be respectful and not bug her.  With every online post I see about kids begging to come home, I breathe a little sigh knowing that if she isn’t calling me, it can’t be that bad.  She has asked to come home for her high school’s homecoming, and that’s fine.

Me? I realized when I got home that she had done an excellent job of training me for this moment.  I never saw her when she was living here, so it doesn’t feel that different.  I cried so much more when we were with her than I do now.  In fact, I cried more writing this than I have in all the time she’s been gone.

But moments get me.  This week we did the state fair for the very first time without kids (could’ve used her help eating some of the food).  This weekend we go up to Madeline Island, Wisconsin, like we have for umpteen years — first time without a kid, or a dog, for that matter (double ouch).

Can’t believe she won’t be laughing at her parents’ weird friends at our annual Halloween party.

This is the first fall in seven years that I haven’t volunteered at the high school’s freshman orientation.

But:

it’s time.

She will be okay.

Eventually she will text me without being prompted — or without needing something.

It’s hard, but it’s supposed to be.  I look forward to seeing what happens next for her.

But in the meantime — you know those Facebook “on this date” memories? They are awesomely cruel bits of nostalgia.  Thanks, Zuckerberg, for both treating me with glimpses of days gone by, and reminding me of all the everyday shit I am missing. Can’t decide if I want to strangle you with your damn black T shirt or buy you a new one.

Hmm… wonder if Singer Girl needs a new t shirt?

 

 

 

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