Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Off to high school

I started worrying about this day almost exactly two years ago. Tim was starting seventh grade. He was entrenched in middle school: one year down, one under way, and one more to complete. There was no question by that time that high school lay dead ahead.

And the mere thought of that sparked dozens of questions in my mind: questions with which I peppered my many friends who have older children for the two years that followed. "How will I know if Tim is registered for high school?" "Who decides what classes he should take?" "What time does the bus come?" "How does he sign up for afterschool sports?" "What's the dress code?" "What will he need for school supplies?" And so on, and so on -- throughout the past 23 months and well into this past August.

The problem was that I found myself at an unexpected disadvantage when it came to sending Tim off to high school. Since my children are growing up in the same town in which I was raised, ever since kindergarten, Tim has attended the same school I attended. This year, ninth grade, will be the first time I've ever sent him off to a school where I don’t already know the smell of the hallways, the sound of the between-class shuffle, the feel of the humid food-tinged air in the lunchroom, the location of every lavatory. Since he's going to the public high school and I attended a private school, I know almost nothing about the institution he's about to enter. In fact, after two weeks of pre-season football training, he's already spent more time on the high school campus than I have in my entire lifetime thus far.

But ironically, looking back now to when he started kindergarten, I realize the sense of familiarity I had back then was actually somewhat falsely rooted. My belief that I knew the school inside and out turned out to be misguided. I would discover in the course of the weeks and months that followed that the kindergarten classrooms had moved. The cafeteria had been rebuilt. The schoolday schedule was different. Recess was held on a different part of the campus. Even the buses used a different entrance from when I was in school. So for all my complacency, believing I knew the place inside and out, it turned out there was plenty I didn't know about my old school by the time Tim arrived.

Somehow, even without my ersatz expertise, over the past year Tim has managed to get registered for high school classes, to gather the school supplies he thinks he'll need, even to navigate his way through two weeks of freshman football training already. And I know that tomorrow, he'll start learning his way around campus with no help or input from me. Because it turns out not to really matter whether I feel ready for this particular milestone or not. Freshman orientation starts tomorrow, and Tim feels ready. If I'm not so sure I'm ready, that's my problem, not his.

I like to think it's because of his nine happy years at our local K-8 school that he's able to make this transition so confidently. I'm the one who is filled with uncertainty. But no one is particularly concerned with how I feel. Unlike kindergarten walk-through, parents are not invited to freshman orientation at Concord-Carlisle High School. Tim will make his own way, and even if it's all unfamiliar to me, it will all be familiar to him within a matter of weeks. He'll do this transition without me. And hard as that may be for me to accept or envision, some part of me knows -- and celebrates -- that it's exactly as it should be.

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