caught in between 10 and 20

Kidling began high school this week.

It’s a strange moment. Weird to be the parent of a high schooler. He grew up really fast. They tell you that, when he’s a baby and toddler–everyone tells you that. “Treasure these years, they’ll go by so fast.”

And you’re thinking, one day at a time, 365 days a year. Diaper after diaper.

In the moment, it doesn’t feel fast. Dealing with midnight feedings and potty training and pooptastrophes and meltdowns. Soothing a hand across a sweaty brow after yet another nightmare. Listening to story after story about dinosaurs and robots and lasers and legos.

It doesn’t feel fast.

But then, somehow, 2 months has become 18 months has become 5 years has become 8 years, and I find myself blinking and rubbing my eyes as I peer backward through time, wondering if it was only three years hence he was starting kindergarten.

And now even that was 6 years ago.

When I was 14, I still thought parents knew what they were doing–that they at least had a clue on this whole “parenting” ride. That it wasn’t a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants gig. Now, of course, I know the deal.

Back then, I remember, I tended to group the adults around me roughly by age.

Youngish adults in their 20s were hard to take seriously, like too-old teenagers, just barely out of high school themselves. Too much my older brother, not enough my parents. When hired as teachers at my high school, I smirked and joked through their classes, viewing them less as authority figures and more as co-conspirators.

Adults between 30ish and 60ish had that parental vibe of authority, the automatic clip to their voice that adults with long practice dealing with recalcitrant youth acquire. I took them a little more seriously. I tended to like and respect them, and seek their approval.

Anyone over 60 was grandparent status in my eyes, and had a little extra bump of authority from the expectation of a lifetime of lived experience.

I remember disliking adults who made presumptions on me–who assumed I would follow their directions/ orders because they were the adult and I was the child, or thought they could get me to respond positively to them if they tried to talk to me “on my level,” or tried to be buddy-buddy with me. I didn’t like adults I perceived as being dishonest, unfair, or manipulative.

I didn’t mind rules or boundaries, so long as I  felt they were fair, clearly communicated, and fairly enforced.

I try to recall how I felt back then, how I related to adults, in raising and dealing with and talking to my son. But it’s a fine line to walk, because in the end, he’s not me. He’s similar to me in personality and interests in a lot of ways, but he’s not me, and it’s not fair to treat him like me.2 … I have to keep reminding myself of that.

I’m proud of him. He’s a really great kid. Polite, compassionate, intelligent, witty, good-tempered. We recently got his state test scores back, and he scored above-average for his grade level in the school, the school district, and the state in every subject.

I’m a little nervous about the next four years. For me, high school was not a good time. But then, public education in general was less of a learning experience and more of a prolonged bully gauntlet–my son doesn’t seem to be having the same experience. He’s run into a few bullies–the usual sort, projecting their misery from abusive homes outward–but has thus far handled them firmly and gracefully, with the support and advice of myself and other adults. I’ve been impressed by his composure and self-possession thus far, and I am more hopeful than concerned about his high school experiences.

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