My stomach twists as I pass the pink paper sitting amongst the table’s clutter. “Freshman Course Selection: Class of 2020” boldly fills its top margin. Next fall, our oldest begins high school. My memory flashes to old parenting worries: shoe tying, running into traffic, choking on hard candy. They seem silly now, just as today’s worries will be in another four years. The pink paper’s appearance proves she’s growing up. So does our increasingly heated discussion over selecting high school courses. I feel concern over her heavy course load. Is she sure she can handle all of those advanced classes? I find myself stating over and over that I don’t want her feeling overwhelmed. Her sigh indicates she’s tired of my worries. She responds heatedly, “Why don’t you give me any credit?” Our conversation ends with frustration and anger. The pink paper remains incomplete.
That evening my husband questions my reaction. Why do I think she’ll struggle? I’m irritated he doesn’t understand my point. Doesn’t he remember feeling overwhelmed in high school? I list the enormous pressures I felt. He gently reminds me…she isn’t me. Her experiences will be completely different from mine. Suddenly I understand what I’ve done. I’ve made her journey about my story.
My mother died six weeks into my freshman year of high school. Although her cancer diagnosis had upended our lives for months, I was not prepared for her dying. It felt like an illogical, surreal movie. I didn’t have the capacity to process that depth of emotion. I was 14. All of us were broken with grief.
That was more than 30 years ago. I have now lived longer than my mother ever did. I’ve worked through inaccurate beliefs and tangled emotions. At least I thought I had. Then the pink paper arrived confirming my daughter was registering for freshman year. Once again I tumble down the rabbit hole of early mother loss. This time, I didn’t even see the trap door.
My head spins with understanding at my husband’s words. I’d never considered her freshman year might be wonderful. Fun. Exciting. I believed she’d feel the terror I had. Without intending, I had been preparing her for a battle that wasn’t hers. I’ve been tossing her armor, never realizing it was unnecessary and confusing. How often have I done this? How often have I gathered unnecessary provisions based on completely faulty logic? How often have any of us projected our past onto an innocent person?
The next afternoon my heart beats hard in my chest as I apologize to this little-girl-turned-young-woman. I feel frustrated that a loss so many years ago creates such complications today. My eyes well with tears as I attempt to explain my faulty perspective. It was about me, not her. I don’t like it, but sometimes I answer from my memories. I assure her I’m confident and proud of her skills. I apologize. We hug. She says she understands, but can she?
My wise husband finds the right word. Balance. We want her high school years to have balance. Academics, yes, but time for sports and fun activities. She agrees. Balance is important. With that, decisions get made. Blue ink completes the pink paper. The Class of 2020 registers a new freshman. I take a deep breath. Balance is important. She will be balanced. She will be fine.