The last echo of the last week of the last year of school

Well, this is it. Out of three, I got one kid who says so - and last night he said so. "I just found out that I'm done with school on Thursday of next week." (He's a senior, but not a conventional senior, so he hasn't been paying attention to all the senior activities. He's getting a state diploma instead of a local one because he didn't attend conventional school during his freshman year - thus, a lack of a specific kind of credits - thus the state diploma for Mr. Responsible and the Delinquents. Maybe they could start a band.)

So this is his last ordinary Thursday. Lots of theater stuff over these next few days. The performances are this weekend, and he's worked his head off for this play. He's also spent a lot of time raging over the lack of attachment to the outcome he has seen in his peers. "Don't they realize we will be on stage with everyone watching?" "The way they're acting is disrespectful to everything that has ever happened on that stage - it's disrespectful to the whole idea of theater! To everything creative! What is wrong with these people?" (Eighteen year olds don't much seem to have any setting between "Volcanic" and "Comatose" - I'd assert that it was just this one kid, but he's the third of three and I'm not senile yet. Then there's the written evidence of my own youth - I found my journals yesterday.)

Anyway, I've been thinking about the different perspectives that have evolved in my own head throughout the years. My own end-of-high-school experience wasn't my first. My sister is eight years older than I am, and when she graduated from high school, I was nearly ten years old. At that time, I thought that "high school" must surely be some sort of earthly Nirvana - some sort of cross between a fantasy amusement park and a library - something very, very "high." I mean, just think about the name of it! It's called "HIGH school." It's "school" (which is as good as life gets, unless you can find a way to stop time completely - whenever you want - so you can read without getting interrupted), but it's "high" - what couldn't happen in a place called High School?

Plus ... there was this other thing.

In Portland, Oregon, where I grew up (me and Beverly Cleary), every spring ends with the Rose Festival. It's the City of Roses. There is the International Test Garden and Washington Park up on the hill where the Oregon Zoo is - the the Zoo Train runs between them. And Rose Festival includes the Grand Floral Parade. And the Grand Floral Parade includes ... ta!dada-daaaaah! ... Rose Festival Princesses! Princesses, I tell you! There were princesses chosen from ... (guess -- guess where the princesses are --) High School! So, excuuuuse me, but what is not to love about High School? They've even got princesses there!

Eight years later, and a thousand thousand miles away in perspective, my own high school graduation came. And from the murky mists of my childhood, a deep longing came with it. Not only was I in a small high school that didn't participate in Rose Festival, but there was the hard and inescapable fact that I wasn't Rose Festival Princess material. So ... my perspective on "my last week of school" had all the usual things. It was my last week of a life all laid out and decided for me, with my only actual responsibility being to turn up and do the assignments given. It was my last week of being constantly, week in and week out, with the friends I'd known for years - many of them since fifth grade. It was my last week of going to school in the morning with my little brothers in the same car. It was the last week of a lot of things. And ... (sigh ..) for me, it was the last week of the Long and Lovely Dream. No escaping it now. I was really and truly never going to be a Rose Festival Princess. Shoot.

And now here we are. My other two kids went around this rite of passage. They didn't go to high school - just enrolled in community college at the age of sixteen (with varying degrees of success), and so they didn't do the Last Week of High School thing. But this kid - this last of the tribe - this vocal and verbal and very vibrant guy - whose trademark statement is the fact that he wears dress socks but makes sure they do not match - he's doing it. And he's talking about it. (This too makes him different from his siblings. He says stuff.)

And so now here I am. This time I'm not the little sister - and I'm ready to admit that high school is often neither high nor school. And I'm not the disappointed never-crowned princess wannabe ... well, not much, anyway. This time I'm the mom. It's not my last week. This time I am off to the side, hearing echoes of the past, and still able to hear so much more of the music than I could back then. This time I see the fear and recognize the frustration and remember the eagerness to just get on with it and to finally be done with all the setup.

And now I know. Many times, in many ways, over and over in this life, this is how it will be for our son. He will feel eager to get on with it - wish that he could just click on the "fast forward" arrows for this last bit - and at the same time have a kind of exhilarated fear roiling around inside him because you can't know what happens next until you get there. This isn't the last time he'll feel like this. But it's the first big one.

After this, these almost-but-not-yet moments won't ever again be quite so sharp and sweet and strong for him. There will be more settings on his emotional scale - a lot of them as time passes - all the reactions between "Ballistic" and "Lethargic" will be added to him. That's what makes this first one in a class by itself, maybe. Maybe the sharpness of this time is simply the fact that there are no incremental settings in an eighteen year old's emotional reactions, and there has been no time yet for a sense of proportion and perspective. Maybe when it becomes possible to anticipate at least some of the possibilities, it also become impossible to feel things like that.

I wouldn't change that fact of life even if I could. We would tear ourselves to pieces and eventually melt and flame and burn away in a heap of emotional heat if we had to live all our lives at the age of eighteen. Just like with love, we need the deeper roots and the weathered storms and the sorrows and the tough times, and we need the joys that come from something we can't yet name when we're eighteen. We call that a marriage - not just a date. But also just like love, this beginning time is really something wonderful.


Francesca said...

Whoa -- I had the exact same reaction (and physical proximity) to the Rose Parade in Pasadena! I grew up in a town WEST of Pasadena.....naturally, they select the additional princesses for that parade from towns EAST of Pasadena.

The only chance I had to be in the Rose Parade was to march in it as a member of the home town high school band......and my sophomore year was the year the school district decided not to participate in it anymore.

Naturally. *Sigh*


Susan in WA said...

Like Francesca, this brings back a lot of memories, particularly since my high school reunion was held last year. ( I did not go, but I did entertain the idea of going.) I do remember thinking that "high school" was going to be something special, something wonderful ... a huge break into "adultness". Although I did not know it, it was an important time to learn that one's fantasies do not match up with reality. It is a lesson to be learned over and over again, but, as you so beautifully pointed out, at a much less intense level.