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First Days of School

When we become mothers, we have a picture perfect dream of how things will be. It begins the moment we test positive for pregnancy. We plan the decor for the nursery. We register for baby shower gifts at Target. We scour over lists of names and squeal with excitement when we settle on just the right one.

Do we ever think about them growing up and leaving the nest?

My youngest is starting her junior year of high school tomorrow. Junior year. Let’s think about that for a bit.

Do you remember your junior year? I sure do. I was 16. It was 1987, the fall before I turned 17 in the spring. Sexy and 17, I thought. But aren’t we still kids at 17? And kids can’t be sexy, right? That’s not true. I remember it well. I was confident. I felt beautiful and excited for my future. I had the world in my hands. I am certain that my daughter feels this way too.

When I had my learner’s permit and very little driving experience, I took on the task of driving myself home one night when the guy I was with had been drinking. He was not supposed to drink, but he didn’t listen to me. I was mad and I made the choice to drive his car. I got home safely, and let him figure out his own way home. I was proud of the grown up decision I had made.

Junior year is also when I went to my first prom. There were pretty dresses and hair done at the salon. I had dinner with my date and two other couples at a restaurant so fancy that I did not even know what some of the items on the menu were. My date was the one who was drinking before. The boy I had a crush on was with another girl, but I made the best of the night as I could anyway.

The first time I drank alcohol without my parents knowing was during junior year. I can’t even remember how my friend and I got it, but we each drank a wine cooler on the beach. We giggled so much and thought we had a buzz. This was so rebellious for me, but still so low key compared to what my peers were doing. I did not want to be like the guy I dated who was on his way to alcoholism.

I remember the hours of band practice outside in the hot sun. Sweat dripped from our foreheads onto our noses. My best friends were in band too. We beamed with pride even when we scored less than perfect at marching competitions. And during concert season, I remember my drive to be the best. The private lessons and honor band auditions that my dad chauffeured me to on a regular basis. Just like I have done with my daughter.

As confident as I was, I also remember the weight of self-doubt. Like any teenaged girl, I wondered if I was pretty enough. Smart enough. Sexy enough. I spent many nights alone in my bedroom thinking. I often wrote in my journal while listening to music on my stereo with the dual cassette player. I had the lyrics to all of the popular love songs memorized. I wrote poetry about all of my feelings that I was not allowed to feel. About the love and heartache that I was told that I was too young to feel.

When I became a mother, I promised myself to never forget what it felt like to be 16. To never forget that things that might seem silly to grown-ups, are really huge for teenagers. Because what is important to us at the time matters. And I know my daughter needs me to remember this.

Today, I remember how grown I felt during my junior year. Today, I look at my daughter with so many different emotions about her beginning junior year. I wonder if I have done enough. Is she prepared for this year full of new experiences that bring her closer to adulthood? Will she have secret experiences like I did?

She is beautiful and confident. She is intelligent and driven. She knows what she wants and she does what she needs to get there. She is just like me and nothing like me all at the same time. I wonder, is that enough? Will she be influenced by other things like I was? By life’s distractions after high school ends?

There isn’t much time left for me to help her grow. In fact, I realized today that there will only be one more first day of school to celebrate after tomorrow. One more.

High school is almost over.

She got her driver’s license this summer and will be driving herself to school now. I just realized that I will never drop her off in the car rider line again, nor will I need to worry about how she will be getting home each day. My feelings about this are bittersweet.

I have spent a large part of the last year fantasizing about becoming an empty nester. Starting a new phase in my life that is mine. Detached from parenting 24/7. But suddenly, I realize that I might need to slow down. There will only be one more first day of school after tomorrow.

So instead of feeling annoyed because she still does not want to eat lunch in the school cafeteria. Even after all of these years that I have tried to convince her to do so. I mixed the tuna with the mayo. I added the salt and pepper. And I made the sandwich. I will pack the snacks and try to remember that the time for doing this is fleeting. That time is precious.

So even when she asked me if her favorite shorts were clean to wear tomorrow, I fussed. I did an extra load of laundry for her anyway. Because there will only be one more first day of school after tomorrow.

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