This week John and I went to an orientation meeting for high school, because apparently it is only a matter of months until we are the actual parents of an actual high school aged human? I am putting a question mark there because no part of that sentence feels remotely real, despite the physical evidence I see on the daily (looming, snarky, wispily mustachioed).

I felt SO many feelings at that meeting, just waves of disbelief that it’s already time to start thinking about program choices along with a mix of hope (so many earnest teens on the panel to address parent questions) and abject terror (so many options! So many possibilities! So many paths that feel so hugely important even though eventually high school becomes a mostly-vague memory for us all!). I didn’t even truly realize how much I was affected until later, at home, when I watched myself robotically devour a bag of crackers followed by a series of holiday-shaped chocolates dipped in peanut butter: Ah, I see our self-medication choice for the evening is food, then.

There is of course the whole childhood-slipping-away, time-barreling-forward side of things to get worked up over, but there’s also this very real and unpleasant feeling of being HUGELY unqualified to be the person who’s supposed to provide guidance and support for another person navigating a system I myself completely failed at.

I mean, I dropped out of high school when I was a sophomore. It’s something I’m not remotely proud of and I have all kinds of messy regrets about, oh, nearly every choice I made between 5th grade and my mid-twenties, and it turns out having older kids is really stirring up a lot of negative self-talk (you’re a loser and you always have been) and I’ve been through enough therapy to recognize when my brain is being an asshole but recognizing a thing doesn’t mean you don’t have to feel the thing before you can maybe, ideally, combat the thing. Sometimes with a whole lot of Trader Joe’s mochi rice nuggets.

I am so proud of both of my kids and grateful that they don’t seem to be dealing with the same garbage I went through/caused for myself when I was their age. I do feel like between John and I, we’re going to be able to handle whatever comes our way — our family unit can be dysfunctional as hell sometimes, but we are tight. We’ve got each other’s backs, no matter what.

But this shit is scary. It’s scary, raising older kids! It was scary before when they were little and it seemed mildly criminal that I had anything to do with keeping helpless infants and suicidal toddlers from death which felt like it was constantly CLOSING IN ON ALL FRONTS (here have a grape OH GOD I FORGOT TO CUT IT IN HALF) but this is worse, man.

It reminds me very much of the time I took college algebra only to show up for the first class and realize that I had absolutely no idea what the instructor was talking about, much less the alien letter-filled scribbles on the chalkboard, because I had dropped out of school and had barely progressed past long division.

Parenting is an ever-shifting landscape and I try to tell myself none of us really know what we’re doing, we’re all just hoping for the best and relying on love to get us through the hardest parts. Even so, it’s hard to shake the feeling that I’m in over my head — and unlike that terrifying class which I dropped like a hot potato, the only way out is through.


22 Responses to “Winging it, part 94802357318471340”

  1. Aunt Linda on December 12th, 2019 10:55 am

    Do you suppose they are too big to leave on someone else’s doorstep for a few years? My only advice for you: go lease a horse to pet whenever the need arrises.

  2. pete haidinyak on December 12th, 2019 11:02 am

    two of my kids are in their thirties and I still feel that way. The movie Parenthood had a great quote “Parenthood, It’s like your Aunt Edna’s ass. It goes on forever and it’s just as frightening.” That was a great movie.

  3. sooboo on December 12th, 2019 11:21 am

    I also dropped out of high school and I just tell people that I was literally too cool for school.

  4. Jill on December 12th, 2019 12:03 pm

    So, I don’t know if this will help or make things more difficult, but high school is VERY different now. I have older kids, one in college and one in 10th grade, and I am a high school teacher. There are many different options now for kids. At the school where I work, most kids aren’t even in the building their senior year. The kids are working part-time and just coming in to complete classes for graduation or they are doing internships with local businesses or even leaving our campus and taking college classes somewhere else. I think this is better because kids who don’t like school have other options to explore while still earning credits.

    It can be overwhelming, but having older kids is fun too. Enjoy your time together, the high school years fly by unbelievably fast

  5. Shawna on December 12th, 2019 12:56 pm

    We went to orientation for Sage’s high school last week and it seemed crazy to be here already. And Jill is right: high school has changed! Or at least Sage’s huge suburban school bore very little resemblance to the high school I went to out in the sticks. I was jealous of all the amazing course options she’s going to have! And her enthusiasm and her success in junior high makes me suspect she’s on track for a great four years.

    Next year Harris starts junior high and I hope he likes it even half as much as Sage does. He’s smart, but much less of a joiner, so I’m crossing my fingers he too finds something at his new school that makes it work for him.

  6. Martha on December 12th, 2019 1:18 pm

    You are a badass. Your kids are amazing. Being a human is hard as hell. Thank you for sharing such relatable stuff.

  7. Amy Sawyer on December 12th, 2019 2:50 pm

    I have two high schoolers. One of them makes it so easy–navigating it all on his own, and doing it well and it’s been such a pleasure to watch him. Then there is the other one. Who makes the wrong decision EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. However I try to parent her is the wrong way, and I’ve tried a million different ways. She struggles, I struggle. IT’s really really difficult. There are some glimpses of goodness but they are very very rare. Mostly she hates me. Anyway. All that to say– I don’t know, man. It’s easy, it’s hard, it’s life. Just keep muddling through. Your kids have two parents who love them and that is half the battle. High school is where they really get to start battling on their own and you just cheer from the sidelines and hope for the best. You can do it!

  8. Nine on December 12th, 2019 4:51 pm

    Say what you will but we pray
    To the gods of our own demise
    All the time

  9. Jeannie on December 12th, 2019 6:33 pm

    My oldest just hit high school this year. I keep being reminded of someone who, when I had a baby I was struggling to just keep alive as a newbie parent, told me “oh, the problems just keep getting bigger!” At the time I was quite resentful because babies are hard! Especially when you haven’t had one before! (And who the hell says that to a new parent anyway?!)

    But it is true. I had to feed and care for a baby around the clock but now I have to watch that same baby learn that people can be downright mean, and that life isn’t fair, and sometimes you just don’t get what you want, and navigating that hurts my heart. He’s doing great and things are largely wonderful and I’m very grateful but … wow. This making a functional human thing is full of things you never imagined.

    But thankfully that last statement does apply to both good and bad!

  10. Mark on December 12th, 2019 7:10 pm

    Your troubles began after 5th grade? Manassas must have been better for you :)

    My son is Freshman in the “Cambridge” program at his high school (it’s like an AP program). This was a school out of our area and he picked it because of the program. That said he is taking 2 Cambridge level classes an its been a struggle for him to adjust. I wish he’d have only taken one given all the other adjustments high school kids have to deal with.

  11. Sara on December 13th, 2019 7:12 am

    My boys are right behind yours, in 8th and 5th grades. Seeing both boys thrive in school, involved in extracurriculars with a solid social circle, shines a very bright light on my fucked-upness when I was their age. Thanking my lucky stars they’re taking another path. Still, it is so, so scary. Like, PLEASE KEEP MAKING GOOD CHOICES, holy shit. Interesting that it makes you realize your own parents had no clue what they were doing when we were kids. It’s all a sham!

  12. Meg on December 13th, 2019 8:03 pm

    My kids are 19, 14, and 10, so are all at different stages of “oh my god I’m so sorry I don’t know how to get you through this unscathed because I’m a massive fuckup and I hate that you’re dealing with this now”.

    I know you’re aware of this already because you are not stupid, but for what it’s worth, something that helps me a little is to remind myself that I’m not there to fix everything for them. I’m there to support them, and to make mistakes sometimes. And most importantly to help them learn how to *cope* with mistakes and pain.

    (I do not mean that I cope flawlessly with mistakes and pain; I just ate two cookies and am drinking a Coke, soooo.)

    They need to develop and refine their skills. Their ability to say oh I made a mistake on this – and these were the consequences, and this is how I fixed it, by asking for help here and filling out that form there, even though I was scared and worried that people would yell at me. So the next time I realise that I’ve made a mistake on a similar thing, I won’t feel *quite* as intimidated and stupid about it because I know I can deal with it.

    I’m not saying that means that messing up one time at school means you can then handle anything because lolllllll. Learning to cope with one thing doesn’t mean you’ll cope with everything forevermore. I’m also not saying that watching my kids go through difficulties that are part of growing up, whether or not they are things I could’ve (/should’ve?) fixed for them, I’m not saying that’s an easy fun thing.

    I’m just saying that helping them learn to cope, and modelling dealing with mistakes and lack of knowledge (you’re right, kid, we shouldn’t’ve done that – let’s ask your teacher if there’s another way), that’s all really important. And is what we need to do as opposed to finding the one true path (TM) that will get them through high school without ever feeling upset or stupid.

    I know you don’t think there’s any one true path! I’m just rambling because looking at it from a coping mindset sometimes helps me a bit when I feel like I’m massively underqualified to help my kid deal with this emotional situation or that bureaucratic situation.

    Take care!

  13. Meredith Hiltgen on December 13th, 2019 10:45 pm

    I love you and your writing so much. I have never felt a need to comment because you have always so perfectly described the situation. But I attended a lecture this last week that was truly amazing- check out Lisa Damour, she mostly writes about girls and anxiety, but her theme is stress and anxiety are normal and ok and needed for growth, we just have to help our kiddos work through those feelings and the 9 steps of good listening. You got this!

  14. Mackenna Wilson on December 14th, 2019 2:53 pm

    Education in my day was pretty simple: you graduated high school and enrolled in university and tuition didn’t bankrupt your life. By the second or third year of uni, you were prepared to decide a course of study that would determine your final degree. Science. Liberal arts. Law. Medicine. Or you graduated high school, worked for a while or travelled or whatever and then returned to school. And again, tuition costs were reasonable. Now, it’s insanely competitive and many parents are unable to afford it.

  15. Thursday on December 15th, 2019 5:14 am

    I still can’t do long division.

  16. Donna on December 15th, 2019 11:18 am

    I don’t have kids so what do I know?!😄 But I have every confidence that you and John and your highschooler and your next highschooler will be just fine! Love and common sense go a long way….and kids are SO much more confident now. You will live it and write about it and we will laugh and cry with you.

  17. MEP on December 17th, 2019 11:11 am

    I have a 17 year old daughter and it’s scary. Even when they’re good kids, and are friends with good kids, it’s scary. I keep having to remind myself that she is not going to do high school the same way I did, and that’s okay (preferable, in many ways). As long as your kids are generally happy and generally successful, they’re doing great and so are you.

  18. Em on December 18th, 2019 8:01 am

    I am just here to say that I agree that none of us know what we are doing! I think having a supportive family is huge, and you are absolutely providing that for your son.

  19. Jamie on December 19th, 2019 6:02 pm

    I had no idea you were a HS dropout (though I detest that word as it seems so….accusatory somehow and yet clearly has no bearing on one’s success in life) and this information makes me even MORE in awe of you and your journey than ever I was before. I remember when your babies were babies (and I was, seemingly, also a baby) and I am geeked to get your perspective on things.

  20. Alissa on December 20th, 2019 10:53 am

    Hi Linda—I’m going through the some pretty bad shit that mirrors your past experiences. I know we don’t know each other but I desperately Need an ear. Thanks

  21. Jessica on December 20th, 2019 2:17 pm

    We’re 5 months into high school with our 9th grade daughter and so far she is much happier than she was in middle school. I think my biggest question is how much freedom I should allow her. She’s so comfortable on public transportation all of a sudden and there are free concerts and so many friends and the mall and other high school sporting events and and and. It’s something new for me to navigate.

  22. Andrea on December 21st, 2019 4:52 pm

    All 3 of mine done with high school, and all 3 graduated from college. High school was such a different experience for all 3 of them. Although I wanted to be a presence in their experiences, I didn’t want to live vicariously through them. Made the decision early on to let them have their own experiences with me being support staff and head cheerleader. Did I want them to fail? Who does? Yet mistakes, poor choices, and failure, are all important for them to own, problem solve, and figure out how to cope and continue on from. I also subscribe to the, “it takes a village” stand. I was OK knowing that they might want to talk to different adults about different things. Having each other to bounce ideas off of and hang out together with was huge. Having a supportive co-parent and loving support system with extended family will go a long way as you all navigate the next steps of this journey.

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