The sky was fire and tropical ocean and newborn skin this morning. A front is moving in to what has been clear, crisp Autumn weather, and the sun rising east of the clouds made a spectacular display of the bowl over the world as we drove to school this morning.
Ravel’s “Pavane For A Dead Princess” happened to be on the radio, providing a lush soundtrack to what should have been a hectic, little bit late drive, as cars swirled around the school like angry bees. I couldn’t seem to get agitated, though; the world around me made me grateful for the excuse to get up, even after a night with too little sleep. We moved through the streets in a peaceful cocoon, cresting a hill and exhaling as the trees opened and the sky surrounded us.
Sunrises are fleeting, changing with each moment, and by the time I dropped my daughter at the curb at school the sky was just a pale, morning blue with gray clouds moving in. I should have taken a picture when I could, but I simply didn’t think about it. The moment was all there was. It’s a little bit like raising kids, I guess. The beautiful moments are fleeting but change your outlook on the whole endeavor, enriching what otherwise would be an ordinary existence.
Perhaps the weather will turn colder today, perhaps it will rain. It won’t make any difference to me. A little bit of this morning’s skyfire will stay with me throughout the day, simply because I was up and witnessed it.
I was in marching band all through high school, two years of college, and worked with and directed marching bands my whole public school teaching career. I have found it to be a great activity, even the glue that keeps some kids attending school. The members become family, they take care of each other, and they are (usually) a part of the group for their full four years in school, making the friendships they make there very tight and close, lasting over the years long after their participation is done. Band geeks, proud and simple.
I always wanted that opportunity and experience for my daughters, and I was quietly happy that they all chose to play instruments and even seemed cautiously enthusiastic about the rigors of marching. They’ll tell a different story, probably, one in which we made them march for at least a year. Maybe I did say that, but only because I knew what having a band family meant and I knew that once they saw what it was about, they would appreciate it as much as I did. If they had never tried, they would never have known.
High school football games are not my favorite activity to attend. They are often cold, sometimes rainy, always long evenings of a sport which is merely an addendum to why I and many other parents are really there. I have made it to every one that I possibly could, including the band parent’s tailgates before the games to feed the kids, just to be there to watch my daughters perform. Tonight is the last marching band show at a home game for my middle child. This will be Senior Night at the stadium, where all the Seniors in all the activities of the evening will be recognized: football, cheerleading, pom pon squad, and of course, band. Though they have a few more marching competitions to aim for and the season is far from over, that makes this game an ending of sorts, a last.
Tonight I get to be a peripheral part of her high school band family again, and it seems like I should be sad to see the end of something that has played a big part in her life for the past four years. Instead, I’ll get my picture taken with my tall Senior, and I’ll be the one beaming.
People who have to drive their kid to school must, by that very act, disconnect a part of their brain. Don’t get me wrong; I understand this because I drive the same route, though I hope I do not occasionally suffer the same loss of logic, patience, and sense of fair play.
Last year my eldest took the responsibility of chauffeuring her sister to the high school and I got the luxury of driving the youngest to her bus stop and hanging out with her there, sharing a little quiet time and having the sense that she was away and on track. I could get back to my chores and projects at home with a clear mind. This year, due to scheduling and the fact that my second daughter is younger than her classmates, she hasn’t quite gotten her driver’s license. That, coupled with the fact that daughter number three is at a new, earlier school that is further away, means that I pass on the easy bus run and get to jockey for position every morning at the high school.
I have observed this morning phenomenon for many years, from the earliest tiny and poorly laid out elementary school parking lots through middle school and high school circle drives. People who are otherwise caring, considerate, and rule abiding individuals turn cutthroat and conniving. There are some stereotypes I have observed, from my place far back in line: the princess (or prince), who MUST be dropped off exactly at the door and cannot walk a few steps beyond; the parents who think their kids are invincible, dropping them off in the pass-through lane and letting them cross the drop off lane; the kids who get out of the car and go around back to the trunk and get out twelve things to carry in, all in slow motion; the “clown car”, spewing out more kids than you thought a normal car could hold; the race car drivers, in a hurry when of course, no one else is; those that try to beat the buses; and the moms in jammies with zombie-like stares.
This morning I stopped off at the local coffeehouse to pick up a quick bagel on my way home. From the me first attitude and bad parking in the lot to the shifty looks of my fellow patrons in line, I think I’ve found where all those folks go after dropping off their kids.
My oldest chick moved to the dorm without too much fanfare at the end of this summer. She’s doing well and seems to be integrating into campus life; she’s not a source of worry for me. Though I miss her, I feel okay with it all. Time will tell how each of us will react to being separated, but I am hopeful we’ll grow both closer and more independent of each other. That’s the way life is, and a pretty good definition of parenting success.
Since she now lives two hours away from us, visits are further apart, though not non-existent. I got the chance to drive up there by myself last month for a day of visiting, and she got to show me around and introduce me to her roommates and new habitat. We shopped and ate, and I hunkered down in a corner of the dorm lobby and read while she went to a class. It was good for both of us.
With the dust settling on that change, I am finding that having fewer people in the house means more time for me to spend with the two remaining chicks. The way school day mornings work out the younger two leave at different times, not even crossing paths most days. I get to spend breakfast time with the youngest, and then roust the next oldest in time to drive her to school. That provides at least a few minutes to chat and make sure all is well before her day crashes in, full force. Separate activities allow us to have separate time with both, and I’ve been making a more conscious effort to do things individually with each one.
I’m not the only one that is getting more one on one time with other family members. The two youngest girls seem to be enjoying each other more as well, and though we still have moments of friction, they may be realizing that they only have each other now. Their elder sister is missed, and so perhaps their bond is more appreciated. It’s nice to see them actually sharing and spending down time together. It wasn’t always like that.
When the five of us are back together to go up to the Inn for Thanksgiving it may feel a little strange, and I didn’t really anticipate that twist. Our current duet will become a trio again; I hope it remains harmonious.
Last night I earned a few more “Mom Points”. Did I bandage a skinned knee? Find a lost homework assignment? Help with an award-winning diorama? No, I have done all of those things in the past, but I’m talking about one step further: I found a rendition of the Doctor Who theme for tuba.
Admittedly, I was looking online for something else at the time. My youngest plays tuba and is always looking for “cool” stuff to play on an instrument many feel is uncool. When I saw the site with all the TV and movie themes on it, all for tuba, I knew I had hit a goldmine, and when I discovered that it included Doctor Who I took a mental bow and pushed “print”.
Lately our home has become very “Whovian”. Any Saturday night will find my second and third daughters parked in front of BBC America, being wowed by a man in a bow tie and fez who travels through space and time in a bright blue police call box that is much bigger inside than it looks. It’s a wildly creative series, with a history of good writers and surprising twists and turns, and makes for some lively and intelligent discussions on the relative merit of plot direction, plausibility, and possible outcomes. I’m not quite up on all the lingo, so they find that they have to educate me.
“Daaaah-lik, Mom. Not Day-lik! And no, that one’s not a Companion.”
I nod and try to soak it in, if only to seem a little less un-hip to my kids. I am sympathetic to their attachment to it and we have driven in record time from my mother-in-law’s house three counties away in order to catch the mid-season finale, planned a birthday party for a Friday instead of a Saturday to avoid conflicts, and the plan for Halloween this year seems to include some sort of Weeping Angel costume for the both of them. It was a toss-up between that and having to build a plywood dalek they could somehow push around the neighborhood, so I may have dodged the bullet there.
Soon we will be going thrift store shopping for clothes we can paint gray and contemplating the best ways to make skin and hair look like granite or marble. A chance for more “Mom Points”, perhaps?
This is it. My eldest daughter’s last day of public school. How could that be? I remember so well her first day of kindergarten, and if I was organized enough I would be able to find one of the many pictures I took that morning.
I couldn’t understand the mothers who went to Tea and Tissues with the principal after teary goodbyes, reluctantly allowing their children to finally enter the classroom, some of the kids crying too. This was a milestone! School was what we had been preparing for and working toward for the past five years, ever since the little bundle met us. She attended preschool for a couple of years, to gradually get her ready. We happily helped her learn her letters and colors, so she wouldn’t go in at a disadvantage. She was a social child, so no worries there. The day arrived and she went to her new classroom with curiosity and a smile and I pushed her sister’s stroller home, a bounce in my step.
There have been a few rough patches between that day and this. I have been disappointed in grades at times, but never in my child. Teachers have been great and not so great. Friendships have come and gone, hearts have been hurt, more lessons have been learned than were in the school curriculum. Triumphs and tragedies; all were so important in the moment and forgotten in the blur now.
Today was a little different in tone than that day so long ago. Instead of picking out her outfit and helping her dress, brushing her hair and assisting her as she loaded her new backpack, I stood in a quiet kitchen making the last school lunch that I ever would for her. She breezed down the stairs and packed it up and was out the door and driving away before I could snap one picture.
Maybe my Tea and Tissues day was just delayed thirteen years.
Today would have been my mother’s ninety-first birthday. You would think I would be reminiscing about old times, remembering how well she took care of me whenever I was sick, calling the doctor for a house call and hovering over his shoulder in my fevered memory. The food she spent all day making for us, or how she was a do-er; how she could get “drunk” and giddy on just a Coca-Cola, or how she lost her first husband at the very end of World War II yet was strong enough to build a different life with my father and us.
Instead, I am spending the day wishing I could apologize. As my daughter approaches her last day of high school this week, I find myself understanding more and more about my relationship with my mom during our contentious years, discovering what she was trying to do. Time and experience wipe the bull-headedness of youth out of the picture, and I can see her more clearly.
I used to get so frustrated, so irritated that last year before I went away to college. She seemed to be holding even tighter to me, and I only wanted to take flight. As my girl does the same thing, I struggle to not want to hold her to my chest for as long as I possibly can. My mother would tell me things I already knew, give me advice I thought I didn’t need, and treat me like a child. I fought like a toddler wanting to be put down, trying to get away, only looking forward.
Mama, I understand. And thank you.