My daughter started high school last week, which is super weird because just moments ago, it seems, I had her strapped to my body in a blue chambray sling.
Now Hannah rides the bus to high school, where she has to figure out how to drop off her violin at one end of the building, race to her locker at the other end and sprint to class while dodging 2,300 kids and hauling a backpack that weighs more than an average 3-year-old.
She has learned shortcuts, deciphered customs, assimilated and ascertained. So far, at least, she has avoided being tossed into the pond. For all this, I am proud.
The evening after freshman orientation, I asked Hannah whether she had met anyone new.
“This wasn’t Meet-A-Friend Day,” she said, ever focused and serious. “It was Figure-Out-Where-the-Heck-I’m-Going Day.”
Just for kicks, I searched a popular online bookstore for the phrase “survive high school.” What appeared on my screen was an extensive list of published works:• “How to Survive High School: A Student’s Guide”
• “Been There, Survived That: Getting Through Freshman Year of High School”
• “The Real High School Handbook: How to Survive, Thrive, and Prepare for What’s Next”
• “The Ultimate High School Survival Guide”
• “How to Survive High School With Minimal Brain Damage”
• And one titled, “Math Doesn’t Suck: How to Survive Middle-School Math Without Losing Your Mind or Breaking a Nail,” which I found a tad offensive. Does the author presume that students who need math help are all girly-girls who care only about their manicures?
Anyway, it’s clear that audiences are hungry for advice on how to survive high school. Search “enjoy high school,” on the other hand, and the results are more limited.
There’s a video game called “Monster High: Ghoul Spirit.”
There’s a book titled “Your First Year As a High School Teacher: Making the Transition from Total Novice to Successful Professional” (because teachers need help, too, I guess).
And for some bizarre reason, there’s a 90-minute video about the Erie Canal — “a ditch that opened the nation!”
In other words, not a lot of chatter about the brighter sides of high school. Volumes upon volumes about stress, homework, bullies, grades, test scores and muddling through.
I could urge Hannah to have fun and enjoy these magical years. It’s the best time of your life, blah, blah, blah.
But I try to avoid empty rhetoric with my daughter, a child who embraced sarcasm earlier than most and who proclaimed, at age 4: “When you toot and you say ‘Excuse me,’ everything still stinks.” (A friend suggested I have that bit of wisdom cross-stitched onto a throw pillow. I still might.)
So this week, as the novelty of high school wore off and the homework piled up, I tucked a note into Hannah’s lunchbox the way I did back in kindergarten. I told her to work hard and walk fast, to ask questions, to lean on friends, to smile and laugh and avoid the pond. And I told her to remember, above all, that I love her to pieces.
Wherever you are, I figured, that’s the key to survival.