Earlier this week my daughter attended her first day at high school and the day for me was met with a mixture of excitement and dread. I was of course excited because her joy was contagious. My daughter couldn’t wait to begin this new adventure with her friends. And then there was the feeling of dread…like I was slowly losing my baby who in fact did not resemble anything like a baby or little kid anymore. To the contrary she was almost my height now and had grown up to become an intelligent, creative and motivated young adult.
And there lay my problem…I was not ready to be the mother of a blossoming young adult just yet. Life was so much easier when my children lived in the cozy bubble of my own creation. They ate whatever meals I prepared (at least that was the plan in theory), had organized playdates with friends whose parents I actually knew and loved, and were always within reach, whenever I needed them to be.
Sending your child to high school is like snipping away at an invisible umbilical cord. It hurts. It feels like you are losing something, even if the thing is right there in front of you and you still get to tuck it into bed each night. It’s like watching a boat sail out to sea and wishing you could swim after it and tow it back, but you know it is time for it to take its journey without you.
I still don’t know how it is possible that time passed so quickly. It feels like just yesterday that I was changing her nappies, wiping away her tears, teaching her to read and searching frantically for Band-Aids after a fall. There were certainly days back then that I wished for time to pass – the toilet-training days, the clinging-onto-me-at-every-preschool-drop-off days, and the-crying-because-she-missed-her-day-sleep days but if I could have even one of those crazy days back right now I would. I would squeeze my daughter extra tight, I would do whatever I could to treasure every precious minute of that day.
And yet trying to control time is like trying to control the weather. You can’t. It slips through your fingers like sand. We take it for granted, sometimes spend it foolishly, and once you have lost it you can never get it back. The trouble is you think you have time but there is no pause or rewind button in life. There’s no going back to retrace our long-forgotten or misguided steps along the way.
I don’t want to write a string of advice or sweet words for my daughter on paper with hope that she takes it on board. I want to share it with her face to face. I already know that the opinions of her pre-teen friends are starting to mean more to her. I get that it’s embarrassing to have your mother walk you to the bus stop on the first day of school just to make sure she gets on it okay. The more she grows, the more I feel like she is creating her own little universe, and I, her slightly crazy mother, is no longer the epicenter of that world.
But that is the way it has been forever. Generation after generation, parents have had to spend countless hours, days and years raising their offspring only to set them free into the big, wide world, hoping that they have gifted them with enough tools, strategies, support networks and advice to get them through their life. They probably all kept their fingers crossed like I now do too.
They say we are raising the future adults of the world and I get that. Once upon a time my own parents had to let me go and make my own mistakes, knowing that they wouldn’t always be there to help or save me. The only problem is I don’t remember ever turning back around to look around. I skipped away from my childhood with glee and embraced the new freedom which came with being older and wiser. If I had stopped to look behind, I may have seen my own mother standing there with a tear in her eye, like I have in mine now, missing things already, even the stupid things that never seemed too important before but they are now.
Like the simple act of taking my two children together to school. That time has now passed, never, ever to be repeated again. In infants and primary school, it was acceptable for parents to loiter in the playground, attend reading groups and casually pull aside teachers to have a chat but there seems to be none of that in high school. Our high schoolers enter a concrete jungle every day and when they come home at night, with stories of adventures, new friends and new teachers, it is up to us to use our imagination to visualize exactly what a person might look that, as if though it is an exotic, foreign land they visit during the day.
Even though I am the author of various parenting books I know that I am not immune to the dangers of the teenage years. Even if you do everything right, everything still can wrong. Teens these days have access to information and pressures that we couldn’t have even dreamed of when we were young. You can think everything is going well with them because they tell you it’s all okay but inside they are feeling insecure, confused and anxious and they keep this a secret because it’s easier that way.
Sometimes all it takes is one slip and you have lost them down a tunnel of darkness which seems to have no end and you have no idea when or if they will make it through to the other side. Parents of older kids tell you to trust them. It’s just a phase, one day your teen will mature and understand but how can you explain that it’s not okay because you already feel like you have lost them when they hit puberty yet still acted quite sweet so to have a teenager who is silent, disrespectful or distant is like reopening a wound you are desperate to heal.
Teens are notorious for being lazy, rude and hormonal but we often forget that deep inside they are just like the rest of us: desperate to be loved and understood. As I come to terms with the fact that my daughter is now entering the unknown, a path that I myself have already traveled but still know nothing about, I must accept that like all things life must go on. I am hoping that high school is much like all the other phases in life. Too often in life we sit around, whining and complaining about all the bad bits while appreciating the good stuff and before we know it the time has gone. Today, as much as I am feeling overwhelmed with dread, is a day that I know that in six years’ time I would do anything in this world to have back.