We hurried through the hallway around the corridor toward the auditorium doors. Entering in the over-crowded venue, we scanned the large landscape for any open seats. I couldn’t believe how packed it was. I wasn’t expecting this, but our school district has three huge public high schools, so why wouldn’t it be? My daughter spotted a few of her close friends sitting up front waving her over, so we rushed down to grab the seats before the presentation began.
As I turned to take off my coat, I was surprised to see an old friend and neighbor in the row behind us. We began the conversation most people do when they haven’t seen one another in years. Then she pointed to her son sitting down the row with his friends.
I froze in shock as I stared into a young man’s eyes of the boy I once knew.
I remembered that precious smile, those adorable dimples, and his bright eyes. I flipped my hands in the air, mouthing “NO WAY!” with a dramatic flair only a middle-aged mom can display, surely making a small scene. I darted my eyes back to his mom, with the same expression, exclaiming the same thing. She nodded with an affirming smile, “I know, right?”
As the lecture began, I kept looking back at him. The poor kid seemed uncomfortable with my stares. I was in awe of this gorgeous young man and struck by the tenacity of time.
I glanced at my girl, sitting right beside me. Then back at my friend’s son.
They’ve grown so much since then.
I kept shaking my head, trying to process just what was unfolding before my eyes as the memories flooded in, and the reality broke open a well of emotion I couldn’t control. I flashed back through the years that brought us to this moment, recalling our kids swinging outside on the swing set, splashing around in the blow up pool, and playing all the childhood games with the joy and innocence of being little.
We lived on the end of a cul-de-sac, where our favorite pastime was meeting outside to let the kids run wild in the safety of our sweet little circle of back yards and front lawns, of cleared pavement free of cars and pedestrians. It couldn’t be more perfect. We would stay outside and supervise our kids for hours while we talked about everything under the sun.
It was so good to see my dear friend and to share in this big moment of motherhood together. Who would have thought we would meet in a crowded auditorium filled with hundreds of people? It was this surreal serendipity that catapulted me from dismissive denial into the hard truth of reality.
My girl, this babe of mine, is entering High School.
I still can’t grasp it all. I wonder if I ever will.
This assembly was the first formal introduction into High School, filled with curriculum options and teen testimonies- all of which became a muffled blur as my mind swirled with this numbing idea that my girl would soon set sail into the waves of these deep new waters.
A vast and sometimes vicious sea, filled with opportunities that could either steer her ship successfully toward a destination of purpose- or suck her under the surf, dragging her through dangerous riptides and crashing currents of peer pressure, bad choices, and drowning influences.
Either can happen.
I’ve worked with teenagers for 30 years and I have been witness to both voyages out to sea. I’ve watched kids drown with the desperate attempts to survive the raging waters that flooded their world. I’ve also seen kids sail with clear direction, charging through the forceful under-currents with confidence and courage to steer the course straight. And I’ve learned that no matter how equipped the ship might be for its journey, there are always unpredictable risks and uncontrollable forecasts that can be damaging and destructive to the vessel’s survival. Some storms can take down the strongest craft ever made.
High School is the entrance into new, unprotected, uncharted territory- filled with unknown doors to open and foreign halls to navigate. I’ve seen kids manage it with wisdom and maturity, taking cautious steps around dangerous turns and embracing the benefit of academic growth while nourishing lasting friendships along the way. I’ve also counselled countless kids who were vulnerable and victimized by the forces of drugs, sex, bullying and more.
I’ve since learned that being a great parent and teaching your kid the skills to navigate this new expanding landscape, are only part of what dictates their success. I know many wonderful parents whose children still struggled and slipped into the broken cracks this new ground can create.
It’s a gamble.
As life often is.
I look at my daughter once more, as she takes notes and listens intently while looking up at the projector screen. She’s made it through Middle School, steering clear of those dangerous options so far. She’s managed to keep her footing on solid ground.
Middle school is good training for High School. Just the other day, she and her friend casually claimed some of the kids in school are drug dealers.
“Are you kidding me? In middle school?” I exclaimed with utter disgust.
Although, I wasn’t as surprised as I should have been. I’ve heard worse. But what really upset me, was this unfolding realization that my daughter is constantly being introduced to the ugly side of humanity, offering her ample opportunity to make hard decisions. She will continue to be exposed to the dangerous choices that are at her finger tips every single day- And I worry if the riptide will ever be stronger than her convictions.
The audience clapped while people rose from their seats, and as I turned to grab my coat, I looked back at my friend.
We nodded to one another, as I glanced over to her son one more time and back at her. Shaking my head with a smile…
“Here we go!”
She nodded and smiled in solidarity.
We both understand the deeply rooted emotion that lies behind our casual encounter. It’s one of uncertainty and excitement, apprehension and fear. Soon we will enter a new threshold of motherhood, so far from where we once were.
We are about to watch our kids set sail on the wavering water, as we stand on the dock, unable to embark on their journey and steer the ship for them.
It will be a slow and difficult passing of the helm.
This is the intersection between holding on and letting go.
And letting go is never easy, but always necessary.
We can only pray we’ve trained our Captains well enough to navigate the sea with their own emerging compass.
The forecast looks good, but you just never know.
We’ll keep the lighthouse flashing, so they can always find their way home in any storm.