Freshman orientation is today. Since I have two of that variety in my household, the freshman experience is really on my mind lately.
I had just moved to a new town at the end of eighth grade, so I began my freshman year with one friend—my next door neighbor who was kind enough to follow her parents instructions to be nice to me. I quickly branched out and began accruing friends in a more organic way, which helped calm my nervous stomach as I walked on campus those first few weeks. By mid-year I was settled in. But that was in a school of nearly 2500 students. When you don’t know anyone, in a sea of bodies that vast, you can both blend in and feel even more alone than ever at the same time.
I’ve got four kids in high school this year, and for the next two years, when the eldest graduates and likely heads either north, to my alma mater (Chico), or south, to San Diego. At least, that’s what he’s thinking about this week. The two freshmen, my daughter and youngest step-daughter, escorted their dad down the driveway this morning, each taking an arm for the long walk to the truck. Was he going willingly? I think so. He’s been waiting a long, long time to have all his kids on campus with him. I upgraded his classroom mini-fridge to a slightly larger, dorm-style version last year, when our second-eldest, my other step-daughter, started high school. Now, he’s got five lunches to store, including his own, not to mention water, yogurt and whatever else they can cram in there.
Where did the time go? I don’t just mean this summer; I mean the last 16 summers. Seems like just yesterday I was packing bikes and kids into the truck and heading to the elementary school to teach them how to ride a bike, which was impossible on the hill we lived on. Or I was killing time at the park, pushing them “higher” on the swings and catching them at the bottom of the “loopy slide.”
A lot of time definitely went to operating car seats. Sometimes, at the end of a long day, or even at the beginning of what surely would become one, just thinking about taking the kids along somewhere would lead me to conjure up and then calculate exactly how much work it would entail, and whether it was worth it. Into the car seat, out of the car seat, into the car seat, out of the car seat. Those days when I had to run three or four errands, to the drug store, the cleaners, or god forbid, the grocery store, it became a shit show of buckling and unbuckling, keeping one on track (alive) while the other was either being removed from or put back into the car. And back then I only had two kids. In fact, I recall moments in the early evening, when this single mom was not up to cooking even mac n’ cheese, and I’d decide to get takeout. Hmmm, I’d think. Do I want to pile two tired, sweaty, not to mention mostly uncooperative kids into the car, drive to whatever fast food joint we could all agree on, spend the money, come home, and pile them out of the car, just to avoid boiling water and mixing in some powdered cheese and butter? Some days the answer was “hell, no” and other days it was “hell, yes.” Funny, how that works.
Now, I pull up at the softball or soccer field, leave the motor running and wait for them to scramble out, grabbing their gear, water and sweatshirts. In less than ten seconds, I’m on my way. We’ve come a long, long way from car seats. So far, in fact, that the junior is now driving himself around and the sophomore will be soon.
The time went to a million different places: family movie night, when we’d pile onto the couch and shush each other for two hours; dinners at Mel’s, endless trips to the park, or the museum, camping, vacations to Hawaii, Colorado and Washington, trips to the City (San Francisco), baseball games, an endless stream of softball tournaments, Saturday soccer games that seemed to end in a different time zone they went on so long, holiday dinners, family reunions, and most recently, sitting in or around the pool at all hours of the day or evening.
Monday is the big day. Four kids in high school. R.I.P. Summer of ’14, and all that came before you. You will be missed.