My daughter started high school this September, and we are floundering, groping for a life preserver in harrowing seas, searching for something to hang on to before the next wave pulls us under. Not her, my daughter – oh no, she is having the time of her life – but we, as in my husband and I, and my comrades, grade eight moms with whom I drink wine.
They make it look so easy on Glee, the parents don’t even have a role to play. Which is exactly the point. I wasn’t quite ready to not play a part.
We were excited to start high school, and this time I mean both my daughter and I. Eight years in the same school, ten if you count preschool, and we were ready for a change. Change is good, keeps you young, invigorates your mind, restores sanity ( so I’m hoping). Even though change meant leaving her idyllic and inspiring elementary school, we squared our shoulders and bought a new, sturdier backpack for those heavy textbooks she would be hauling back and forth, and showed up for the first day wearing new, albeit ripped, jeans and a slightly nervous smile.
It turned out to be as shiny as the apple she refused to eat, having discovered pizza bagels in the cafeteria. High school was all that and more: locating her classes and navigating between campuses was challenging and interesting, bigger classes and a much larger school meant more friends, more boys, more teams, more clubs, more everything. All good, all exciting, two thumbs up, four if you count mine. (I personally had a little trouble finding her classes for parent teacher night, so let’s downgrade that to three, but why am I even in the picture?) My daughter was loving high school, is loving high school.
The problem, however, is she outgrew her knee-highs and grew into a social life overnight, while I simply rolled over in my sleep.
In the good old days, like two months ago, she did what we did on the weekend. If that meant trooping to her sister’s soccer game and then visiting friends for dinner, we did it together. But not now. Now there are football games to watch and movies to go to and mass sleepovers to attend and dances and the all-worrisome parties. Our measly social life is in peril, our babysitter is perennially busy. That is sad, seeing as we have only recently rekindled our dormant extracurricular lives; but what is even worse is this feeling that our cozy little bubble, the one that was all-knowing, all-hearing, all-seeing, due to my ability to hover over my daughter and discuss with other parents the innermost thoughts of our children (and occasionally break into her computer when there were discrepancies), this bubble has been burst open to reveal one single bold question mark.
I knew that starting high school would be the beginning of new independence for her, even went so far as to wish for it; I just didn’t expect it to hit so quickly.
So now we are scrambling to find and institute new boundaries. Huddling with other parents to compare notes and gather whatever information we can. Enrolling in social media lectures to help with this affront. I book her weeks in advance for babysitting, and ignore her inevitable eye roll.
And now we hope. Hope that all of those lessons we droned into her made some tiny impact, and that the choices she will make – without us hovering – will be good ones.
I’m striving for perspective: it’s an elementary school graduation. But still, it’s a milestone. And apparently, it warrants manicures and hairdo’s, and a dress ordered months in advance. If you are thinking that is way over the top, I share your sentiment. When I graduated from elementary school, I spent hours scraping gum off of the bottom of my desk on the last day, and then high-tailed it out of there with scarcely a backwards glance. But the times they are a changing.
Tomorrow, my daughter is graduating from grade seven, and in the fall will start high school. She asked me yesterday if I was going to cry. I hadn’t thought of that, and made a mental note to stuff a few Kleenex into my bag alongside my camera, my lip-chap and stockpile of granola bars.
Truthfully, I haven’t given this graduation much attention. It is hitting us at a busy time, in the middle of moving. By that, I mean I’m weighed down by the boxes I have yet to pack. But that is fairly typical; if it’s not one thing, it’s another. On her first day of kindergarten I was in the hospital, having given birth to her youngest sister the day before.
So it’s a vaguely familiar feeling, this milestone coming at a slightly inconvenient time. And now, on the verge of the pomp and ceremony of tomorrow, and new tomorrows, I am wrestling with my feelings, which are two-parts joyful, one part excited, and one part trepidatious.
Of course, I’m proud. She is an enthusiastic student with a penchant for fun and fashion. She speaks her mind and has a head for reason when all about her (in particular, yours truly) are losing theirs. She’s solid, independent and kind, mostly. She is growing as fast mentally as she is physically; we are eye-level now, but not for long. I more than love her: I like her.
She was my test-case baby; as my oldest child, I cut my parenting teeth on her. My expectations were sky-high in her early years, and it’s taken a while for them to come down to earth. My other two have reaped the benefit of my more relaxed and realistic parenting approach. But Grace had to weather the storm, not that it’s over. Even now, as the first to go to high school, I will falter and flail alongside her before I get my footing. The next time around it won’t feel so precarious. Such is the state of her existence. I’m sure it has shaped her, somehow.
And yet, despite my own parental shortcomings, I have always had utter and complete confidence in her, perhaps too much at times. Still, with high school approaching, and the terrible rumours that accompany high school life, I’m mostly confident she will make wise decisions, but a tiny part terrified that she will be trapped by the pitfalls that will confront her.
Like a mother bird, nudging her baby out of the nest, I’m holding my breath, hoping that through all of the lectures and diatribes I’ve imparted, somewhere in there is a manual on how to fly.
Tomorrow, our children will graduate in a gymnasium shrouded in Moroccan splendor, thanks to months of preparation from dedicated mothers who want this day to stand apart from the rest of their elementary school days. In the midst of busy lives, we are taking a day to celebrate. To account for their achievements. To wish them the very best of luck from the every fiber of our beings that they will continue on their skyward flight pattern, up and away.
Fly, baby, fly.
It took seven minutes for the tickets to sellout online.
From the moment the date was announced, there was a collective clamoring for babysitters. The emails have been flying around, fast and furious, about what to wear. Once the women were sorted, the emails sailed around once again, this time asking whether tuxedos or simply shirts would suffice for the menfolk. Then began the chatter about the before parties, and for those with more stamina, the after parties.
Thrown in to the regular hectic schedule of shuttling children to activities and feeding them their vegetables this week, a rush on pedicures at Four Seasons Nail Salon, and an unusual amount of coiffed women walking the hallways.
(I have even made my own feeble attempts at beauty, to be honest. I exfoliated my elbows in the shower yesterday, and last night I slathered self-tanner on my legs, which triggered my eczema to kick in at around 2 am. Instead of getting out of bed to find my cream I scratched and tore at my skin like a madwoman, and woke up with an angry rash all over my calves, and orange palms. My elbows, however, are very smooth and dazzling, so I’m hoping people will look no further.)
The only thing that can whip our little elementary school into a frenzy of this magnitude, and make me worried about my so-white-I-look-sickly skin, is the Fundraising Gala, which is being held tonight at a very generous parent’s swank home. Donations to be auctioned off have been gathered, the tents have been built, the caterer has been dicing all day. Typically the hottest thing on the auction block is the class art projects that our children have laboured over. Tonight, these will be auctioned off at an enormous expense, and this year it is my mission to not get drunk and monopolize, or perhaps sit on, the donation sheet. (If I got out more, and experienced open bars on a regular basis, I would not be like a kid in a candy store with the free booze. This I know.)
It’s not the Academy Awards, but let’s face it, for me it’s as close as I get, which makes it all the more exciting. I am looking forward to drinking champagne and eating tiny little quiches that will burn my fingers and leave spinach stuck in my teeth. I am looking forward to laughing about nothing in particular and not worrying about the soccer carpool. I am looking forward to finding a corner to dance in, although there is no dancing advertised (I scrutinized the invitation). We will do all of this and raise funds for our children’s school, an investment in their future, hoping it will make things a bit easier for teachers, and make their excellent school even better.
The elevated atmosphere around our school and the hype in the air reminds me of the formals my university held every year at a local hotel, way back when I was a student. The big difference being, of course, there were no children to care for the next day while nursing that hangover. But that’s tomorrow. Tonight, we party.
Flat Ella was packed to go on our Hawaiian vacation a week early. She stood on her tiptoes in my child’s coat locker (she was laminated, so sitting was impossible), waiting patiently for our departure date and her moment in the sun.
How Flat Ella missed the flight is anyone’s guess. Some might blame it on the mother. The mother might blame the father. The child might blame her older sisters. Suffice to say once our error was revealed, there were lots of fingers being pointed. But the reality was once we pulled away from our house, fashionably late for our flight, the checklist we ran through went something like: passports? wallet? flight information? bathing suits? oven off? alarm on? Flat Ella didn’t make the list, just like she didn’t make my child’s suitcase.
Catastrophe’s of this magnitude tend to be revealed at the moment she is least equipped to deal with them: the instant before her delirious head hits the pillow. And so it was, after a long day of line ups and airports and time zones, I lay down with her in her vacation bed, with visions of Mai-Tais dancing in my head, certain she will be asleep in a flash, only to have her bolt up into a sitting postion and wail, or should I say WAIL, that we forgot to bring Flat Ella. “Flat who?” I asked, so far was Flat Ella from my stream of hula-ing Mai-Tais.
Incidentally, Flat Ella is a project inspired by the book, Flat Stanley, whereby a hand-drawn, paper version of a child is photographed in adventurous situations. When I was a keen super-achiever parent, a Flat Stanley project once caused my friend to be stabbed by a potentially poisonous cacti in Phoenix. My, how the mighty have fallen.
A plan was concocted quickly lest we all lose an entire night of sleep: after spending a day on the beach, we would hightail it to a store to buy bristol board and markers, and a new (better! improved!) Flat Ella would be born. The lack of lamination was a stumbling point, but I assured her we would figure something out – at worst, no surfing for Flat Ella.
The next day dawned sunny and warm. We lounged on pristine beaches watching whales breach in the distance. We snorkeled with sea turtles and rainbow fish. We boogie-boarded and found sea cucumbers in tidal pools. But apparently nothing could be enjoyed, either in paradise or ever after, without Flat Ella. We packed up our loungers and headed for the mall.
After much input and erasing, a Flat Ella emerged that looked more like a brown-haired Tinkerbell in a strapless blue cocktail dress than Ella, but the most important among us was pleased with the result. Ingeniously we bought some clear tape and managed to create a water-resistent prototype. Flat Ella was alive and well, although another happy hour was lost to the cause. Our vacation was potentially saved: all we had to do was snap a few inventive pictures.
The next morning, we loaded Flat Ella, our beach chairs, snorkel gear, boogie-boards, towels, and yes, cooler, and trotted towards the beach. Passing the pool, the real Ella spotted her teammate from soccer, and promptly ditched Flat Ella to better accommodate her beach buckets and shovels. She was so intent on playing with her friend (and torturing sea cucumbers), she didn’t mention Flat Ella again, leaving us to pick up the slack.
Normally, I’m not one for completing my kids’ projects – but forfeiting happy hour had to amount to something.
What Really Happens After the Kids Leave for School (Caution: this post may or may not contain the word ‘porn’)
On a good day, the door closes behind my children at 8:45 am and I am seized by the idea of throwing one of those come-as-you-are parties. Of course it would end promptly at 3 pm, leaving me time to trash the empties before the kids return. Other ideas include cranking the tunes and painting my toes razzmatazz. Or having the mother of all pillow fights with every pillow in the house. It’s fair to say I’ve never grown up.
Unfortunately there’s work to be done, and although my finger hovers over that enter key that would send the invitation out to party like a maniac (it would read: Come Now! Someone left me in charge and the house is full of booze!), I don’t actually send it. I go about my work. Dutifully, like June Cleaver.
Yet some days I perform an act of defiance, and put off my duties by Googling random things. It’s no party, but it’s the equivalent of losing yourself in an episode of The Facts of Life. Some people surf porn, but for me today it was the hit songs of 1975.
Let me tell you, that was quite a year in music.
I was astonished by the outstanding quality of that year’s top 100. Running down the list, I knew all but a handful of them. Not only did I know them, I thought to myself, I can probably sing all the lyrics to every song! This impressed me immeasurably, since I was only five the year they were released – not to mention I was a December baby. With such an incredible ear for music, surely I missed my calling when my mother made me choose between gymnastics and piano lessons. So I began my experiment by Googling the lyrics to the songs, and singing along. (By 9:01 I’d spent $20 on iTunes. Damn!)
I could really have used Google when I was five.
It turns out I have an uncanny ability to make up nonsensical phrases in place of the artists more brilliant lyrics. And in many more cases, I tuned the verse out altogether, impatiently waiting for the verse to finish so I could get to the words I actually knew in the chorus.
Yet in the beginning, I was full of bravado.
Captain and Tenille‘s Love Will Keep Us Together was the number one hit that year; that one was a cakewalk, since I frequently dazzled people with a dance I had choreographed to it. I clearly remembered Glen Campbell’s Rhinestone Cowboy and it’s star-spangled rodeo. I shone a light on Elton’s Philadelphia Freedom, yes I did. Crooning with Frankie Valli’s My Eyes Adored You made my eyes water all over again. He never even laid a hand on her!
Then that damn falsetto of Barry Gibb stumped me. He had me at Jive Talkin’. In fact, those were the only two words in the entire song I could decipher, and so I emphasized its enunciation every chance I got: Ji-iiiii-ve TAL-kin’. But the rest was just high pitched rhyming words. I was sure Barry was singing about a bad girl with fancy eyes who had left him looking like a dumb, drunk lug when in fact he was saying more hypothetically “There you go, with your with your fancy lies, leavin me looking like a dumbstruck fool.” But then we launched into ‘With all your Ji-iiii-ve Tal-kin’ in sync and all was right with the world.
Still, that one was an eye-opener.
Kung-Fu Fighting was another disaster waiting to happen. I was so busy mastering my kick that the lyrics went in one ear and out of my mouth with a ‘HA!’, with nary an idea that the song was about funky China men from funky Chinatown, since all of the fun was clearly in the funky, and yelling ‘HA!’ at the end of each line.
I didn’t even remember there were actually lyrics to The Hustle besides ‘Do the hustle!’. Admit it – you didn’t either. Yet Van McCoy is slyly encouraging dancers to eschew individuality, since the hustle’s specific moves fit the grooves of trash disco that is 70′s cool. I hustled right over that little tidbit.
So it turns out, like usual, I have overstated and overestimated my abilities. At least this time, I took myself down a notch in the comfort of my own home, and no one needs to know about it.
As crowds of college kids congregate around the pool, my daughter asks me, “Why do boys wear underwear underneath their swimsuits?” That is an excellent question, I reply, as I notice every one of the boys has the waistband of their underwear showing above their swimsuits. We ponder their decision to prioritize coolness over comfort, surely having a bunch of wet cotton between your legs can’t feel great.
They look like babies, these kids, yet surely they must be in university, I don’t see any parents hovering around. It looks like they all grew a foot overnight, and are getting acquainted with their new height, stooping to accommodate themselves. If I squint, the large group morphs into versions of each other, the same person save for different coloured swim trunks. They carry blue plastic cups around the pool, likely filled with more alcohol than mix, liquid courage.
Families are interspersed amongst the kids, as invisible to them here as we would be if we stumbled into one of their frat parties. As we keep a watchful eye on our children, guarding against the recurring nightmare of drowning, we keep one eye on the partying college kids, remembering what it was like to be on spring break. What it was like to be totally self-absorbed, before responsibility descended.
While in university, people were always telling you, “Enjoy it while it lasts,” and we would laugh and agree, but inwardly think that life would always be this good. We could control our destiny and make it wonderful. Youthfulness is a state of mind. Pass the baby oil, please, our skin is as invincible as we are.
Life will inevitably deal these kids hands of worries and cares, they will one day be more concerned about things like interest rates and health care, but they are oblivious at this point. They laugh, cavort, and play-fight like puppies, as they discuss which bar they will try to get into tonight.
I bite my tongue to refrain from telling them what we are all thinking, it is futile. No matter what their GPA’s, they cannot fathom what the weight of the world might feel like on their shoulders, when not a single burden is on their horizon.
Our experienced eyes know that it will happen to them just the same, as sure as we are sitting here.
A curious thing happened the other day: my daughter refused to bring McDonald’s to school for lunch. So not cool, mom. The negative stigma associated with fast food has trickled down to today’s youth.
I was one part proud, one part annoyed.
Since I’m writing this on the heels of admitting my Honey Nut Cheerio addiction, I hasten to tell you we very rarely eat McDonald’s, but it happens to be conveniently located next door to my dentist. The superstar mother I am managed to get all three of my children in for their 8 am cleaning appointments, minus their lunches. I fell from glory when I couldn’t convince my child to walk into class wielding a golden arch emblazoned bag.
Put it in your lunch kit for heaven’s sake – no one will be any the wiser! No dice. The smell, she said, would surely tip them off.
Interestingly, we had this conversation over muffins and juice inside McDonald’s – breakfast was also sacrificed to arrive at that early appointment (fine, so I was more drill sergeant than super mother). She has no trouble eating the food, she just didn’t want to be seen eating the food by anyone she knew.
My other two children could not believe what had just come out of their mother’s mouth – they were being offered the jackpot of all lunches, would be the envy of their classmates. I couldn’t go back on this offer. In the same way I refuse to be a short order cook when they all don’t like the dinner I’m serving, I wouldn’t be running to different restaurants for their lunch that day. It was McDonald’s or nothing.
I was in a position I never dreamed of: singing the praises of the fast food chain that in previous conversations I had proclaimed as evil, trying to cajole her into a quick and easy lunch. My words were coming back to haunt me, I had been too convincing in my earlier life, when I had more time for nutrition.
Other kids get Whole Foods, and I get McDonald’s? The high water mark for lunches is now the over-priced organic grocery store, incidentally. While undeniably full of healthier options, Whole Foods was not at my disposal.
We settled on a fruit and yogurt parfait and a couple of biscuits with jam, taken out of their packaging and disguised by her lunch kit. Hardly a lunch of champions, but under the rushed circumstances it would suffice.
Another day, another life lesson: be careful what you wish for.