A week from now, I'll take part in a ritual as much a part of summer's end as binge eating before Yom Kippur, Kershaw getting shellacked in the playoffs or me blaming the world's problems on "seasonal allergies"-- posting that seemingly mandatory "first day of school" picture on Facebook. The one where your kids look like they want to maim you. Or kill you. Or kill, then maim you. Because it's not bad enough that they have to start school, but now they have to stand next to their sibling, often with a hand-drawn sign they scrawled with all the joy and free will of a ransom note.
I promise I'll try to post a caption more clever than "Where did the time go?" If not, the Writers' Guild should seize my laptop. But the truth is, I'll be thinking "Where did the time go?" Because this is our last first day of the kids starting school together. And it's my daughter's last first day of high school. And for me, who can't watch the Olympics without sobbing at detergent commercials, the caption should read "What the Fuck?! How can she be graduating? The kid just got here. And besides, who's paying this tuition I hear so much about?" On second thought, maybe I will stick with, "Where did the time go?"
To be clear, this isn't the essay about dropping off my daughter at college.
This is the essay about dreading the essay about dropping off my daughter at college.
This summer has served as kind of an illusory buffer, like the clock of time has somehow been suspended. But I know that once senior year starts, it's happening. And it only ends with my baby leaving.
In full disclosure, Sammy leaving for college has been an obsession of mine from arguably the minute she was born. I definitely interrupted the rabbi to lament that she may one day leave. Not at her bat mitzvah, at her baby naming. Hell, I was bereft when Chelsea Clinton left for college. So I can't imagine saying goodbye to my own. Yet imagine I do.
I know this feeling is far from unique. There are suburban parents everywhere going through this Bataan Death March of the mind, with a potency not felt since counting down the final episodes of Breaking Bad. In my case, it's not helped that I double-majored in Anticipatory Anxiety and Classic Dread. To put this in context, I think about her leaving for college more than I think about death or UCLA football. And I didn't know there was room in the old brain box for anything but those two topics.
There is part of me that can't process what's happening, because frankly I keep imagining her as a baby taking the ACT. Of hoping my wife packed her a sippy cup and cheddar goldfish for her AP English exam. And of me dropping her off in her dorm room in a Baby Bjorn. But that just may be a function of my being bat-shit crazy.
But then there's another part of me that can't get past the fact that I'm no longer a high school senior. I definitely wear the same shorts and hoodie. It's certainly not helped that as my daughter entered high school, my high school dreams returned with all the soothing gentleness of a Holocaust movie. In every dream (and sometimes double features), I can't duplicate whatever successes I'd achieved in tenth and eleventh grade. And that my entire self-worth as an adult, which had been based on those successes, is a fraud. I also sometimes dream that I can't find my Stray Cats t-shirt.
I'm sure there are some realpolitik moms out there thinking, it's easy for to me to be nostalgic about my daughter leaving since I'm not the one preparing lunches or making schedules or driving car pool. No offense, but I'm talking about me right now.
Senior year is upon us. I'm trying to enjoy it the best I can, savor the time we have with her still here. The number of Sunday family dinners at the restaurant of her choice has subtly increased this summer, her vegetarianism be damned. As I walk through the house, I can't imagine her empty bedroom. Yet, truth be told, I spend an inordinate amount of time imagining her empty bedroom. My only hope is that I don't turn into one of those Armenian moms on a reality show, that says "good morning" every day to the pillow she leaves behind. But the statistical likelihood of me doing that is about a millionty percent.
We've tried not to spread the dread to our daughter. But she feels the transition on the horizon, having recently started "joking" about how great it would be if my wife could be her roommate.
When she was in preschool, my daughter had such pronounced separation anxiety that I used to take her down to the LA River for a run-around before school, just to take her mind off of drop-off. (And yes, there is an LA River.) When she was around 5, she forbade my wife from playing the Dixie Chicks "Wide Open Spaces" in the car, because it made her cry every time. Even then, without fully understanding the lyrics, she was able to intuit from the melody and the chorus that the song was about a young woman heading out on her own. Which to my daughter's five year-old mind seemed downright cruel. But now to her seventeen year-old mind, it seems like a scary but necessary challenge.
Senior year has begun and we know how it ends. In a scene we've played out in our heads a million times: us in a dorm room, making chit chat, meeting a new roommate, me trying not to cry on her roommate. Not wanting to leave, but knowing we have to. Trying to hold it together, at least till we get to the car where can unload like we just saw Steel Magnolias and Rudy at the same time.
But that's next summer. We still have one more year with our first-born asleep in the next room. And I plan on enjoying every second of it.