Today is Ms. B’s last day of school. Which, in our house, means she will come home, pack her bags, and have a goodbye dinner. Tomorrow morning she leaves for her dad’s, we’ll see her for two weeks in July, and then won’t see her again until just before school starts in the fall.
When Ms. B. was a baby, I decided that the volatility of my relationship with her father would do more harm than any benefit a traditional nuclear family could possibly provide. So I left. And the trade-off is that I don’t get to physically be there all the time. Ms. B. is with us during the school year, so I get to be there for soccer games and violin concerts, school plays, skating parties and sleepovers with friends, homework and parent teacher conferences. But she spends summers with her dad. So I’m not there for trips to the pool and camp outs and all of that vast swath of unstructured fun time that defines summer. That’s the trade-off. And I accept it. It doesn’t make sending her off for the summer any easier.
As I was going through some pictures yesterday, I came across this one, taken the day she moved back home last August:
What struck me in this picture was not how much the Peanut has changed; that’s to be expected with a baby. No, what was surprising is how much Ms. B. has changed from that day last August. Over the last ten months, Ms. B. dropped a clothing size while simultaneously growing three inches, stretching like taffy as the school year wore on. Her hair grew, her face changed, she just looks older. But those aren’t really the changes I was thinking of.
As we were finalizing plans for how and when Ms. B. would get to her dad’s, he asked, “So. . . is there any . . . Girl Stuff I should know about?” Oh ho, my friend, is there Girl Stuff.
You will be both her best friend and the worst possible person to exist. On the planet. Ever. This is new. The likelihood that you will be both of these things in the course of a single evening is increasingly high.
Last year we would get on her case because she was trying to wear the same pair of sweat pants two days in a row, or because “Honey, didn’t you sleep in that shirt?” Now, you will have to tell her that her shorts are too short or her swimsuit is too small or (gasp!) her bra strap is showing. (This last one is mortifying to her. Try to handle it delicately).
I know she was always social, but her friends have become so much more important to her over the last ten months. They say they’re ‘like sisters.’ They share jewelry, books and magazines. While chatting online they will simultaneously text each other. I know. This is inexplicable. Should you glance at her phone to discover that, good God, she sent forty texts in the last hour, you will also realize that not a single one of these forty texts appear to be written in English or any other known language. You will vow to work on that spelling homework a little bit harder next time. But those girls, her friends, are so important to her. And they’re all such good girls. Seeing her leave them for the summer makes me as sad as any of my own selfish reasons for wishing she could stay.
It’s quite possible that you will have more than one conversation with her that goes something like this:
Me: So, it’s just the two of us for dinner. Let’s go to the grocery store and pick out something to eat.
Ms. B.: (silence)
Me: We could just make some salads or get stuff to make tacos, or whatever you want.
Ms. B.: (silence)
Me: Or I could just leave you here and you could share a bowl of dog food with Marvin.
Ms. B.: (silence)
Me: Oy! I’m trying to feed you! Are you listening to me at all?!?!
Ms. B.: Huh?! What!?
Recently D offered to stay at home with the Peanut so Ms. B. and I could have a ‘date night.’ I took her out to dinner at a place on the Plaza where we could eat dessert first. We laughed. She shared some of the school gossip. Things were going well. And then the conversation hit one of those natural lulls. And I felt myself start to panic. “Quick!” I thought. “Say something important, some lesson you want to make sure she really hears. You don’t have many opportunities like this, and look! There’s a captive audience, locked in the chair across from you!” I didn’t say anything, I couldn’t think of a damn thing to say that I thought was important for her to hear, and my panic only increased. The silence between us stretched and I worried I might start to hyperventilate.
“Ooh, I like her dress,” Ms. B. said, pointing to one of the many girls in their prom dress wandering around the Plaza that night. I latched on to the topic, thankful and yet vowing to try and think of something, anything, of value to say to her before the night was over. We spent the rest of the evening walking around, admiring prom dresses, window shopping, talking about who liked who at the school and I never did say anything that I thought had any lasting value beyond that evening.
As we walked back to the car, Ms. B. linked her arm in mine. “Thanks, Mom,” she said. I smiled and leaned my head on hers.
Try not to panic. I think it’s just the being there that’s important.