Next year, my daughter is starting high school. She will be entering ninth grade, the entry point to the massive—2,700 student body—school in our town. I’m currently sitting in a tiny freshman classroom, with no air conditioning, reflecting on the realization that this is actually happening. This should be a time for my wife and I to reflect about our 1) age (are we really old enough to have a high school student?) and 2) position in life (have we accomplished what we wanted to by this time in our lives?). But there’s something else running through our minds. It’s a sense of nervousness and anxiety that goes well beyond the normal or rational—it feels like we’re also entering high school, starting this experience with her.
Ironically, all the preparation our town has done to help make it easier for our kids has somehow put all the pressure on us. My wife and I are sitting here in this tiny room, in the tiny chairs with desks, listening to teachers, counselors and even current students telling us what our kids will be doing seemingly every minute of their young lives for the next four years. We are groaning at the harsh realities of the early morning start time for our whole family to get her to school on time and the running around from class to class, where she’ll be playing catch-up all day long.
The most difficult reality (which of course we knew already) was that grades now count. This is real. This is it. There’s pressure for every paper our daughter turns in, every test she takes, every step she makes. (Isn’t that a song by The Police?) We won’t be the only ones watching our daughter’s every step. All the colleges and universities, the organizations she wants to join, the summer programs between grades, and of course, her fellow students will be scrutinizing her too.
Back in the tiny room, I sit listening to all of these people, raising my hand to ask questions, and I feel like I’ve been transported in time. I start reflecting on my own experience in high school, which so happened to be across the country in California, a world away from here in Connecticut. I start remembering so vividly the thoughts that permeated my 14-year-old mind 30-plus years ago: the idea that, although it’s incredibly scary to begin a new chapter in a place that was “too big for me,” my life was filled with so much potential. This is the time, I remember thinking, that will shape my future. This wasn’t just about the college I would aim for, the friends I would make, or the activities I would get involved with; it was also about the new person I would become.
High school really is a time when you start shaping the person you will be. I’m not talking about the archetypes carved out in the 1985 John Hughes classic, The Breakfast Club, but you do end up falling into a category that somehow translates into the adult version of yourself. This is the time you’re on the cusp—you’re just not quite there yet. I wish I had expressed this thought to my friends when I was back in high school. It might have helped them and, in verbalizing my thoughts, me to appreciate our experiences a bit more.
I’m now back in the room, awakened from my daydream, and I am staring at the other parents around me, all around my age and most likely having similar daydreams of their own.