Son Joins the Hordes of High School

It didn’t hit me yesterday, because I wasn’t the one who drove, but today I got hit with it smack in the face: Number One Son is in high school. As he left the car this morning, it looked as if he were entering a literal stream of young people, heading upriver (or down? Lousy metaphor), flapping around in the water, headed toward that ravenous monster, the future. Kids from all backgrounds (except I guess neglectful ones), dressed in all sorts of clothes (didn’t see many headscarves at the Catholic grade school), armed with enthusiasm and intelligence and a little blind naivete that likely is necessary to get a jump-start on adult life.

His anxiety was strong in the car, as he tried to bury himself in a thick biography of Emerson, Lake and Palmer. On Tuesday, enough things went wrong to alert him that he’s no longer at the parish school around the corner. His newfangledy tablet computer (which he got through an experimental school program) went out on him twice. He forgot his locker combination. And he came to realize that he might actually have to pay attention through his whole 90-minute classes and do most of his homework at night. At least there were no snafus on the CTA bus coming home.

He’ll be fine in a few weeks, I’m sure. But we’ll need to keep an eye on his stress levels, because they have a tendency to get bottled up until they explode. I’d blocked out of my mind, at least a little, how difficult the first weeks of high school were. One thing I do remember is, back in the day, I got myself so worked up with nerves and the fear of failure that I made myself sick for a few days. The only people I knew were my brother’s friends and the dorkiest kid in my grade school who was following me there. It was a school full of traditions and demanding standards and a lot of all-boy school machismo, and I really thought that I’d never make a friend there on my own terms. Of course, I eventually made some of my best friends there, some I still stay in touch with. But the immersion was more than my 14-year-old spirit could handle.

I had a dream a few days ago that I still had my handsome fat baby boy in my arms, and I was blowing neck farts on him. He smiled and laughed, we probably even talked about things in a dreamlike way. Damn, he was a handsome baby! I woke up satisfied, not sad or wistful. But oh if it were possible to hold your kids one more time in your arms, if only for a day! How much would any of us pay — how many years off our own life would we sacrifice — if such a thing could be done? It aches just to think about it. Sometimes it’s hard being a sentimental old fluff like me.

(Below is a family portrait that he drew when he was four years old, and his little sister was a caterwauling babe-in-arms. Note the monsters and space ships on the frame, and the pile of hair on his head. I think this was drawn when “Monsters, Inc.” had just come out.)

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