Scarlet Letters

The not-so-private thoughts and rants of Elizabeth Donald, journalist/author and founder of the Literary Underworld.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Senior Year

I'm trying to figure out how the adorable, perpetually-grinning baby who sucked his two middle fingers when he was sleepy became a tall, dashing, occasionally bespectacled young man with a smartass mouth.

It started hitting me the day we registered him for his senior year of high school. When he was born in 1999, I did the math and figured out that he would graduate in the class of 2017. That seemed like a weird, faraway, science-fictiony year, something you might see as the footer in the opening sequence of some movie involving aliens and hovercraft. And yet it is upon us, faster than I ever dreamed possible.

I thought back to my own senior year in Tennessee. I remembered going for my senior portrait and not actually understanding what that was about, or why I had to wrap this blue velvet thing around my shoulders. I was a transplant from a private girls' school in Baltimore, and totally unprepared for all the senior-year hoopla. And yet it's still the best picture of me that has ever been taken.

It was 1993 - well, 1992 when the picture was taken. My best friends then are still among my best friends now, people like Sarah Penick Sanford, Janet Pilcher Cagley, Dana Franks, Stephen Reksten, Jason Tippitt, and others who survived the wilds of Martin with me. Malinda Pitts commented on my Facebook that her oldest son is now the same age as we were when we met, when I introduced Tom Pitts to Malinda, his future wife.

I remember those times, sometimes better than I remember last week. And it's strange to me that my son is now the same age I was when so many lifelong memories were made, friendships forged that changed my life forever, and a few youthful transgressions that - well, let's just not go there. Ahem.

I wonder if my parents felt the same way in 1992 as I feel now.

Well, I'm not ready. Of course, he's going to grow up and launch his own life whether I'm ready or not. This year is about getting him ready for that big step. We talk about bank accounts and the difference between debit cards and credit cards and why student loans are a horrible idea and the pluses and minuses of owning a car. (By the way, when I explained the concept of credit cards, he said, "That sounds really sketchy." Stick with that feeling, kiddo.) We talk about careers and balancing work and school and the difference between living at home, living in a dorm, and living on your own. Adulting stuff.

Oh, there'll be family vacations together and plenty of holidays and visits - he isn't going far, after all. He loves this town as much as I do, and as far as work allows him, he wants to stay here. But we know it isn't going to be the same. Even if he lives at home for his first year of college - which is likely thanks to the egregious cost of freshman dorms - it isn't the same, nor should it be. Adulting means a different mode, a different relationship. It's more responsibility on him, and thus more freedom, taking the reins of his own life. My father said it's the point where we parents become advisors instead of running the show. (Though I'm still gonna nag Ian about wearing his glasses.)

Tonight is the night before his senior year begins. I am looking forward with him, but part of me can't help looking back. I see the collage frame of school pictures I've sort of forgotten to update since sixth grade. I see the boxes and bags of various thingamabobs for the scrapbook that trailed off about seven years ago. I think about all the times I forgot to get a picture of him on the first day of school, and the handprint I never inked on his baby sampler, and I try to remember the last time I made it to a PTA meeting and I am so not telling you that, because it's embarrassing. I wonder about all the things I missed trying to juggle two jobs and momhood, and whether he missed out on anything.

I remember when he was little, and everyone told me, "They grow up so fast! Enjoy every minute of it." I heard it so often, it was kind of a drumbeat. Yeah, yeah, I know he's gonna grow fast, he's already outgrowing every stitch of clothing faster than I can resell it on eBay. But that wasn't what they meant.

And now I want to go around to my friends who seem to be procreating at an unusual rate these days, the ones with the new babies, the ones with the toddlers learning to walk, the ones whose kids are dashing off to school carrying their little lunchboxes. I want to yell at all of the new parents, "Don't forget to take the picture! Take them to the zoo and the children's museum - don't put it off! Don't let those moments slide by, don't miss that concert, don't forget the handprint! Their hands get bigger and soon they'll be too big for the baby book you forgot about! Don't let it go too fast, because you're going to blink and when you turn around, he'll be taller than you and you'll feel like you missed something, even when you were there every day."

I want to warn them, but I know they've heard it. And when they find themselves on the night before Senior Year, they'll turn around and wonder where the hell the time went.

I guess we never really know if we did a good job, raising our kids. You just sort of aim them at the world, light the fuse and hope they fly instead of crash. I hope I did right by him, I hope Jim and I have prepared him well enough for the challenges he'll face and the decisions he'll make. I know I did the best that I could.

And while it's been a long, long time since he sucked on his middle fingers when he was sleepy, he still hugs his mom before he goes to bed.


















































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