The timing was perfect : Gami shih tzu squatting by the side of the road just as the school bus, at least ten minutes behind schedule, turned the corner to pass us. First day jitters for everyone, I guess.
There was no waving or blowing of kisses at the bus as there had been the first day of kindergarten, no mad dash to the school to make sure our kids found their teachers once they got off the bus, and no first day photographs because he’s too cool for school now and I didn’t want to make things worse by insisting.
And earlier on, there had been no tears from my boy even though my heart was in my throat. Just a mini meltdown over shoelaces, which we had practiced last week, but that’s fair-weather dyspraxia for you, nobody’s friend when you’re stressed. A last minute, “I’m really nervous, mom.”, in his new man-child voice was the opening for a hug. “Want me to walk the dogs around the block? I won’t say or do anything.” “Okay.”, he conceded.
And then I let him go, just like that.
If you’re a parent, you know exactly what that feels like.
Taking the long way around through the park, I bumped into a woman i know casually, walking her dog. When she asked how I was, I told her I was nervous about my son’s first day of high school. She nodded knowingly. “I’ve gone through it three times.”, she said. “And my daughter is starting CEGEP this year.” “So he’ll be fine, right?” She said he would be even though she can’t possibly know that, but blind reassurance is the only way to assuage a neurotic parent’s worst fears.
I continued walking until he was within sight. There were lots of kids at the bus stop as I watched from far away, mostly boys and one girl. A lone dad stood next to his daughter at the end of the line. I don’t blame him one bit. Everyone stood apart from everyone else. There was no talking, no eye contact. High school culture.
Sean glanced up momentarily, saw me, then looked down. There was no acknowledgement as per our agreement.
After the bus passed, I lingered outside for a long time. Dogs and walks can be so therapeutic.
Then back at the house, I sat on the steps of the mud room, opened my throat wide and bawled my eyes out. A small percentage of that release was pure relief that the first day was over, at least my part in it. Most of it though was my heart breaking in two.
I’ve heard all sorts of platitudes from people telling me things will be fine, that I’m worrying for nothing. I really hope that’s true. But I work in a job where shit happens all the time. Nobody asks for it or deserves it but it happens anyway. We cope by not entertaining the possibility that it could happen to us so when it does happen we get sideswiped, feel bewildered and come completely undone. Quite frankly, I like to come prepared for a party like that.
If it were up to my son, he’d be perfectly fine. He’s a great kid, empathetic and bright, with lots of resilience and many strategies to fall back on. That’s how he made it so far, along with the help of our village.
It’s the system I don’t trust. We’ve had terrible experiences in the past and I’m afraid those still haunt me. Not to mention the mean kids who make high school unnecessarily torturous for so many. The insidious bullying and exclusionary tactics that take their toll in the form of deeply wounded psyches in brains that aren’t fully formed yet, or worse when we hear about kids as young as thirteen taking their own lives. This shit really happens. I know people who’ve lost children. I’ve lost people.
Ian says it’s an awkward stage for all teens, an awful but necessary rite of passage that rudely spits them out into so-called adult autonomy once they’ve paid exorbitant fees for a really scary roller coaster ride. I can’t help but feel that this generation has to deal with so much more than we did though. There simply doesn’t seem to be an off switch or volume button to tone down all the pressure they’re under. At least that’s my take on it from where I stand next to the ripples.
By the time I finish writing this and posting it, my boy will be almost home. It’s only a half day today so there will be plenty of time to debrief, decompress and eat comfort food.
Hope to see you all on the other side of things, intact, in five years time.
P.S. If you have a boy, please watch this movie available on Netflix : The Mask You Live In.