Is it wrong as a parent to want a little drama? A little upset-ment? A little kicking and screaming and “Why world?!? Don’t make me go!”
Is it wrong to think that starting 6th grade — this major milestone, this turning point in the lives of the Thompson household, this big new, adventure — shouldn’t be so easy?
Or is that kind of selfish?
Because the first day of school — of middle school! — was pretty anticlimactic. Downright dull, and even un-eventful. It felt a bit like every other day.
And it shouldn’t … BECAUSE I DIED A LITTLE INSIDE!
MY BABY IS GROWING UP, PEOPLE! (And she doesn’t seem to mind.)
“You’re mom now,” my daughter said. We were at the airport waiting on a flight to Detroit. She was holding a wad of chewed-up gum as thick as her fist.
I was dumbfounded. Unsure what to do or say. So, I tried something deep and insightful: “Huh?!?”
“You’re MOM!” the 11-year-old repeated. “Mom always has a piece of paper for my gum. Don’t you have a piece of paper?!?”
“Paper? I don’t have any paper. I don’t have anything! Go spit it out.”
She stood there and stared at me. Might have even sighed.
“You’re mom now.” What did that even mean?!?
We were traveling together. Just dad and daughter … alone. On the way to see my sister perform in the Michigan Shakespeare Festival. A super-fast trip. Two nights. It was the first time we had gone somewhere so far, and so long, without my wife.
No mom. (Could we manage?)
“I’ll meet you in the parking lot after my job,” she said.
“Your what? The where?” I asked.
“The parking lot!” she said. “I will meet you in the parking lot. Don’t come in. Don’t stand by the street waiting for me. In fact, just have the car ready and put it in drive. I’ll meet you in the parking lot at 12:15 … unless, of course, I have a business meeting. Then I might be a little late. So, I’ll text you.”
A business meeting?!? Text me?!? What the heck is going on here?
It was Memorial Presbyterian’s Vacation Bible School. My daughter is 11 years old. She was “working” as a volunteer there. Assisting with science experiments. Walking little kids to the bathroom if they had to go. Handing out cookies.
There were no power lunches and meetings in the boardroom. No water cooler banter and secretaries reaching out to schedule strategy sessions with VPs.
I’m not sure who had more fun: My daughter going to her first school dance, or me, getting to go along to drop her off at the school dance. I needed her special permission just to be allowed in the car. I had to keep a low profile. I wasn’t allowed to drive. Like a dog, I was required to sit in the back seat. I couldn’t smile. I couldn’t say corny, obnoxious or sappy things. And I wasn’t allowed to cry, laugh or pontificate.
Any of these things would get me kicked to the curb, or worse! Shoot, I nearly got slugged when I came home from work and said to my daughter — her hair neatly brushed to one side and wearing a wonderful, flowing summer dress — “Boy, you’re the most beautiful girl in the world.” I dodged the swing and jumped over the sofa to safety.
But the short drop-off was still awesome. I pressed my nose up against the window, trying to catch a glimpse of something — anything! — as she walked into the school. “Stay away from boys!” I wanted to scream, but the child lock was set and the window wouldn’t roll down. (Darn kid had thought of everything!)
How it reminded me of my younger days, and my first elementary school dances.
I don’t remember that we had too many. Maybe because I spent most of my years at an all-boys Catholic school in Tampa, which was directly across the street — and two barbed wire fences away — from the all-girls Catholic school.
As a runner, I always understood the word “milestone” in terms of distance. How long it’s been since you hit the last the one. How they’re important markers on the road of life. How they pop up and symbolize something so significant that you have to remember it, memorialize it and celebrate it by screaming out, “Dude, who knew I could fit a whole bag of Cheetos in my mouth!” (Not sure that last one has anything to do with running, but …)
When I hear the word “milestone,” I always focus on the “mile,” and never the “stone.” Only, recently I’ve come to appreciate that second part of the word a bit more — what it really means. How important it is to the greater construct.
Mile-STONE — an event of great significance … that wallops you on the head. I believe the term comes from ancient Greece where the swift marathoner Runesius won a country race, only to be bludgeoned in the head by an archrival with a rock. “Boy, that milestone sure did wallop Runesius!” someone remarked, and the rest as they say is history. (Or at least, that’s how I picture it.)
This new meaning of milestone has come to me as my daughter winds down her school year, which seems loaded with significance and change on the horizon. This week, for instance, marked her last performance with the children’s choir at Memorial Presbyterian downtown. She graduated. Apparently, she isn’t a “children” anymore.
I started rubbing my hands together. Scheming. Thinking about all the tasks and jobs and things I hate to do.
My wife — I can’t even remember why —said to my daughter one day: “It’s time you had some real chores. You need to come up with a few ideas.”
I popped up out of nowhere, complete with a puff of smoke. “I’ve got some ideas!” I said.
I think my daughter hadn’t finished something or tried to order room service after the kitchen had closed. Something that kids are known to do to set parents off, and get them threatened with more tasks around the house.
It was music to my ears. Free labor! Handing off tasks I hate. Giving up household duties that threaten life and limb — MY life and most of MY limbs!
I was told a cautionary tale about a boy who got a drone. It cost several hundred dollars and was as top of the line as you can get. He charged up the battery. He went through his pre-flight check. He set it all up at a park and lifted of gracefully. Then promptly set it down in a lake.
Plunk! Goodbye expensive drone.
I thought of this story as my daughter and I set up her drone for its first flight in a park down the street. Big, menacing oaks with mighty claws loomed over us. Cars passed by on the street within controller range. Obstacles and dangers were everywhere.
But that wouldn’t be us. I was going to be careful with her new Christmas present. I watched a Youtube video!
“The key,” I told my daughter, “is to take it slow. Go easy and don’t liftoff too fast. I’ll go first because I have experience with these things. I’ll just hover it about eye level and then land it carefully. OK? It’s not going to be super exciting, but it will be safe and cautious.”
“Dial it down please,” said my wife to our 10-year-old daughter.
“I can’t,” she replied. “It’s Christmas and I’m really hyper!”
She didn’t need to point out that obvious fact. She was bouncing off the walls. Riling up the dog. Dancing about. Speaking so fast that she sounded like an auctioneer on fire. I worried that maybe she had stuck her finger in a light socket, or had taken up drinking espresso.
But no: It’s Christmas!
When you’re a kid, it’s just about impossible to contain your enthusiasm this time of year. And when you’re a Christmas kid — born during the season — there’s absolutely no hope.
That’s exactly what my daughter is: A Christmas kid. Born on Dec. 26.
In fact, she began her long journey into the world on Christmas morning when my wife’s water broke while we were opening presents. The little child didn’t seem too concerned that we were an hour away from having family over, or that I might want another cup of coffee. (At least she had the decency to drag the labor out and didn’t emerge until the next day.)
It is better to give than it is to receive. Yes, yes this is true. But it is definitely easier to RECEIVE than it is to GIVE. Especially when your family won’t tell you what they want and it’s only … holy cow juice! … like a week until Christmas!
Forget giving, I’ve got to start BUYING!
But I’m stumped this year. It’s always hard, but it seems this year it’s been especially difficult to come up with ideas. Or pry ideas out of people. That includes my daughter, who turns 11 the day after Christmas. Maybe it’s a tough age — an age when toys of yesteryear don’t quite cut it. Instead, electronics and other big ticket items are more important.
Conversations in my house sound like this now:
Me: Child, why is your homework all over my desk?!?
Child: Because I needed the computer for it AND I don’t have a computer OF MY OWN in my room … hint, hint, hint …
Me: YOU’RE NOT GETTING A COMPUTER FOR CHRISTMAS!!! AND YOU’RE NEVER ALLOWED TO DATE BOYS!!!
I have four distinct memories of going to waterparks as a child: 1) Nearly being drowned by a crush of friends in the deep end of the wave pool; 2) burning to such a crisp that I looked like a strip of bacon (and smelled like it, too;) 3) drinking no water, aside from what I swallowed while being drowned in the wave pool; and 4) putting my towel down on a beach chair and never — ever! — finding it again.
I grew up in Tampa, and many weekends were spent at Adventure Island. My mother would drop my brother, me and a couple friends off with a towel, a glob of sunscreen to share and some wadded up money we were supposed to use for lunch. (We inevitably blew it at the arcade.)
In summer, we lived at waterparks. In Florida you are required to attend waterparks. It’s the official state bird.
But my daughter, now 10, had never been to one. (When you live close to the Atlantic Ocean, who needs fake waves?)
So when we traveled to Orlando this past weekend so my wife could attend a conference, the two of us visited Aquatica, a waterworld filled with slides, wave pools, lazy rivers and tourists wearing odd bathing suits that leave nothing to the imagination.