I pulled the car up to the curb at Harriet Eddy Middle School, kissed my only child bye-bye and called out cheerfully, “Have a happy junior high day!” as she lugged her book-laden backpack toward the school entrance.
She paused to look back at me briefly, and I heard a studied, cool girl with multiple piercings lounging nearby say loudly, “If my mom did that to me, I’d just die!”
There was no time to feel chagrinned that I’d embarrassed my brilliant and beautiful little Virgo at an uber-self-conscious stage of her life. The school bus was honking — again — and I had to drive away to the office feeling like possibly the worst mom in California. Certainly in Sacramento County. For sure in Laguna West.
Anyone who knows me knows the sun rises and sets on my daughter. So after work, I walked into the house and immediately hugged my baby, who stood as tall as I was now, babbling apologies to the moon and stars and back again. I’d been saving them up all day.
“Don’t worry Mom,” she said with confidence. “It didn’t really bother me, I’m used to you. Besides, some of my friends think you are entirely too perky, but I love you just the way you are.”
Too perky? Who says I’m perky?
All of this came flooding back to me in a wild flashback Aug. 21 as I wandered around Quincy Junior-Senior High School for the seventh-grade welcome barbecue, snapping away with my trusty Canon.
Somewhere toward the back buildings, I heard a mother laughing as she called to a friend, “That’s it. I’m going to walk him all the way to his first class tomorrow morning and give him a big kiss, right in front of everybody!”
Corresponding laughter rang out as they headed to the parking lot.
And in that moment, all I could think was this: How very much fun it is to be a parent in every way, and how many misadventures we are lucky to have as we survive middle and high school together.
So, of course, I had to go visit my now wonderfully grown daughter with her lovely life in Sacramento.
“Ok,” I said, plopping my purse down on the sparkling, clutter-free counter in her new kitchen. “What would you say are your top-three, all-time worst and most embarrassing things I’ve ever done to you?”
Looking thoughtful, she replied, “Ever? Or is there a specific window you’re looking for?”
We busted up laughing and fell into a five-minute hug, Gilmore girls-style.
“OK, specifically junior high or even high school,” I said, wiping my runny mascara.
Simultaneously, we both blurted out, “Well, except for that time with Señor Adams, the Spanish teacher!” We do that sometimes — talk in unison.
I’d just as soon forget the awkward moment at back-to-school night when I tried to tell a funny story in my nonexistent Spanish to the unfailingly polite Señor Adams — botched it remarkably, rather impolitely.
“Is this going to end up in the paper? Don’t tell that Señor Adams one, then,” she said wisely. Roger that.
OK, well, there was that time at the movie theater when I dropped her and two friends off with detailed instructions to wait by the lobby entrance and I’d be back to pick them up at 3:40 p.m. I was practicing giving her more space and freedom to be on her own.
But when I returned, I searched everywhere until at least 3:59 p.m., called the police and had the theater staff combing every auditorium while I raced around the parking lot for the ninth time.
Suddenly, the clouds parted and my daughter appeared at the exit doors, laughing with her friends and in wonderful spirits.
The officers stood a few feet away as I ran up, sobbing, “My baby, my baby!” and threw my arms around her. The girls had simply popped over to a different auditorium for the same show that began a little later. They’d been safe the whole time.
I, however, was a wreck. Somehow, she forgave me.
“I think you got me a cell phone the next day,” she mused.
Well, what about all those times I volunteered at her school events, speaking on career day, teaching art, painting faces and serving on the PTA? Surely I must have blundered a few times then?
Or how about that time I signed up to be a chaperone at the eighth-grade dance, huh?
Offering me a choice of spicy tea or delicious filtered water there in the kitchen all these years later, she chuckled and said, “Mom, you never really did embarrass me all that much growing up. I liked having you involved at my schools. I didn’t even want to go to that dance and don’t you remember? I actually hung out with you a lot of the evening, except when you had to bust my friends for inappropriate dancing.”
I did remember. And I remembered asking the chaperone coordinator ahead of time, what the heck was inappropriate dancing?
“Oh, you’ll know it when you see it!” several other chaperones replied.
And then I breathed a sigh of relief. Maybe my version of parent participation hadn’t been fatal to her social life. Maybe I hadn’t scarred my daughter’s psyche. No, she assured me, I had not.
The next thing I knew, I was reminiscing about how things had ended up in her senior year of high school when we took that month-long summer trip to Europe with 35 of her classmates. I’d been so sure she would sit elsewhere in the bus, totally happy thinking she would ride through England, France and Switzerland with her friends while I made conversation with the teacher guides.
Nope. She sat with me, right up front, holding hands and laying her head on my shoulder as we sang along to the Italian bus driver’s mix tape. “Volare! Whoa-oh-oh-oh!” we’d belted out. No one cared. Other girls moved up front with us.
Eventually, I found myself with five additional girls in a little group, leading them around the Quartier Latin on the Left Bank in Paris and ordering in my best high school French, “Monsieur, nous voudrions des escargots avec sept verre de l’eau, s’il vous plait.” Which roughly translates to: I’m going to teach these kids to love snails and we need a lot of water to wash them down.
Of course, I did get us horribly lost in Florence. All those damn bridges. Nowadays, I let her do all the navigating.
“That’s the thing about you, mom,” my sweetheart said. “You’re worth it for the entertainment value alone!”