Sweet September, I’m glad you’re back. If you’re reading this and your house is so quiet you can hear the cat snoring, it means either the legions of leaf-blowers have taken a blessed break or the kids are back in school.
For parents of littles, all the household animals, human and otherwise, are sighing deeply, basking in the knowledge that the boisterous youngsters are now someone else’s responsibility for one-third of every weekday, including lunch.
But for parents of newly-minted high school graduates, those sighs are a little less “Aaahhhh” and a little more “Hmmmmm.” The quiet is a trifle too somber. Life is suddenly a little too reminiscent of those sappy Subaru commercials where the adult kids are always driving away from home, waving goodbye to the aging parents and the ancient family dog who can barely wag it’s tail. The parents and the dog are easily on the downhill slide, but by golly, that Subaru will last forever!
What is it about having grown children that tugs at our heartstrings? The older the kid, the more the soundtrack to the parent’s life loses the headbangery of Led Zeppelin and adopts the melancholy of “Fiddler on the Roof.” Sunrise, sunset, swiftly flow the days… I could update the lyrics and make them a little less heart-wrenching, waxing poetically about surviving high school — as a parent this time — attacking ACT’s, SAT’s, AP’s and GPA’s, with many an OMG, WTH, and LOL.
Many a verse could be written about 21st Century Orinda parents coping with Senioritis, chaperone duty avoidance techniques, and organizing so many junior varsity pasta feeds we began to feel like Italian matriarchs. We worked hard. Harder than our parents ever thought about working for us. True, the kids worked hardest of all, but it was definitely a team effort.
My daughter received a solid, well-rounded education at Miramonte, and now she was headed off to college. Not because she knew exactly what she wanted to be when she “grew up.” Actually, she didn’t have a clue about that. In this case, she was headed off to college because that’s just what most kids do around here.
Almost every single one of the 244 kids in her graduating class at Miramonte went on to college, a statement shrouded in both awe and angst, material for a future column. She would run with her wolf pack.
I was thrilled! I was proud! I was relieved! So why then was I one Annie Lennox song away from an ugly cry in the shoe aisles of TJ Maxx? I say this as a devout Maxxinista, but you know they play those old hits from the 80s and 90s on their in-house sound system very deliberately.
The goal is to remind us of our feel-good glory days, when we looked stunning in anything. When we feel that adrenaline surge from revisiting our magical youth, marketers assume it makes us want to purchase. But be wary of trodding down this path, discount department store gurus. When hormonally-charged mothers are realizing what it really means to have their baby birds stretch their downy little wings for the first time, it is often a tidal wave that cannot be quelled with a non-fat latte.
If emotions were pizzas, mine would have been a Sweep the Kitchen. I never expected to feel so many powerful extremes simultaneously. She’s in college now. I had gotten exactly what I wanted, thanks to all the Tom Clements classes, all the piano lessons, all the forced enthusiasm for Bobby Glasser’s sixth-grade Core projects at OIS.
Many remember. They were endless and required such a continuous stream of adolescent creativity that visitors to my home wondered if we were running some sort of pathetic Etsy crafting business out of the dining room. But I was grateful. Not so much for the constant mess or the frequent and grueling slogs out to Michael’s, but for the expansion of her developing brain.
I should be happy, I thought to myself, and of course I was happy. Sort of. It makes no sense to be sad, when you’ve gotten everything you set out to get. Would I want her lying around on the living room sofa, using the “b-word” (boredom) that drove me up a wall? No way.
The problem was another b-word: her bedroom. It was just so… so clean. For the first time in my adult life the sight of pristine, freshly mowed carpet was depressing. How would I have known?
As soon as we moved her into the dorm, I returned home and busied myself for days straight, ferociously deep cleaning my pain away, dusting and reorganizing all her drawers and shelves. I was going to Marie Kondo away my sense of loss, never imagining I would profoundly miss her clothing-bomb decor, with crumpled notebook paper and smelly athletic gear strewn about as accent pieces, accentuating the cupboard’s worth of water bottles clustered on her nightstand. Turns out that while necessary from a health code standpoint, this mass cleansing did not bring me joy. The tidiness was a constant reminder she was elsewhere.
Eventually, I’m happy to report, the situation does improve.
For instance, when they call, you’re overjoyed to hear from them. But within seconds you realize they’re only calling to ask if you know how to attempt some sort of nuisance-y task, like dropping a class, visiting the health center or scheduling a haircut.
That’s when something snaps, but in a good way. Immediately you forget all about that sentimental journey back to stuffed animals and story time. Instead, we lecture about growing up and handling these types of issues by themselves.
It became painfully clear — I would go back in a heartbeat to hold them in my lap or play Candyland, but I’m all too happy to relinquish the administrative chores. Plus, that sparkling bedroom ends up making an awesome office, or Etsy crafting station. Our kids aren’t the only ones with wings to spread.