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It’s the first day of high school
I hope you catch a big one, kid.
Time doesn’t stop for pandemics.
Or growing up.
In the latest of a string of surreal moments that started, oh, 15 years ago, I dropped my oldest child off at high school this morning.
Julian is as tall as I am now, increasingly aware of his body and how he dresses and presents himself.
The last time we had a “normal” first-day-of-school day, it was the fall of 2019. My dad died about six months earlier. I had just met Frank earlier that summer, and, if I remember correctly, the boys had just met him a few weeks earlier.
Fast forward two years. Half of Julian’s middle school experience took place at home. In his bedroom. On Zoom. Where he was about as miserable as it gets, sitting “in class” via a black box on a screen. Avery learned how to troubleshoot his browser-based educational experience and deal with countless unforeseen hiccups, a skill that will likely serve him for many years to come.
We did our best during that terrible time, and now we’re still doing our best in this less-terrible-but-still-awful season.
We’ve been in these WTF-is-happening seasons before.
This morning, when I turned on the “Today” show at 6:55 a.m. — one of our schooltime rituals is to watch a few minutes of news before we head out the door — I was transported back 20 years. Watching Afghans trying to flee on a C-17. Armed Taliban riding in the back of truck and painting over depictions of woman.
Scenes I don’t fully understand taking place on the other side of the world while just waking up to manage my own day-to-day business.
I remember sitting in my first college apartment when the Iraq and Afghanistan wars first started, crying at the injustice and sadness of war.
But I couldn’t sit around and obsess about the news all day. I had classes to attend. Today, I had kids to get to class.
Julian and Avery caught a little of the news this morning and then headed off to take care of their own day-to-day business. They have already learned how to compartmentalize.
It’s more than remembering to bring the right school supplies or clothes for PE. It’s more than making sure they aren’t tardy or that they have their water bottle in their bag.
This outside world-inside world balance — of carrying the load that’s in front of me while being aware of the one that is way outside my reach — is one of the biggest things that we learn in adolescence and adulthood.
And when your adolescence happens during a global crisis, you learn these skills quicker than other generations.
I’ve tried not to shield my kids about what’s going on in the world and in other parts of our city, even as the news has gotten more difficult to bear, even for adults. They don’t need to bear all the world’s problems on their shoulders, though. They need to be immersed in school life again.
Julian’s schedule will take him away from the house from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. five days a week. It breaks my heart a little that he’s starting his full-time life now, at 14, still squeezing into his last pair of “kid” jeans.
But I also know that there’s a rhythm and a structure to that life that will expand his understanding of the world he lives in and the one he is building for himself.
Avery’s day is a little shorter — it’s his last year of the 3:15 p.m. Mom Pick-Up™ — but he’ll benefit from the rigor of regularity, too.
It’s scary to lean into this ebb and flow of schedules, school and our social selves. I’m not sure what’s harder: abrupt changes or the ones we’ve spent years preparing for.
Amid the pandemic, we’ve been in fight/flight/fear mode for 18 months, but it’s not as simple as that. There are small expansions even within the contractions, growth alongside loss.
For as long as they’ve been alive, these kids have been riding waves and ripples and Slip ‘n’ Slides and king tides, learning to find that line between fear and fun, risk and safety, stress and excitement.
The first day of high school, though.
I hope it felt like catching a big one.
UPDATE: What kind of a wave did Julian catch on his first day of high school? He took the city bus home and ended up at the bowling alley. We’ve taken the city bus before, but this was his first time riding solo. He was in good spirits when I picked him up. Even though it was 6 p.m.
What a kid.
Thank you for your Substack support! I’ve got a story about a new mycological group in Austin that is making its own waves, plus some other fun newsletters planned for this month. Don’t forget to check out “Class Reunion,” which is finally available on Apple Podcasts!
See you next week!