Saturday, December 04, 2010

From Kindergarten Cop to College Mom

A few months ago I started writing a new column called "Julie's Slice of Life" in Lake Mary Life Magazine, the community magazine I've been writing for since 2006. We're fortunate to have wide circulation: the magazine is delivered to over 20,000 homes throughout our county and is also available in numerous businesses. I've decided to post the columns here, too, so others outside our area could have the chance to read them. This first one ran in the September/October 2010 issue (hence the references to summer).

Julie's Slice of Life: From Kindergarten Cop to College Mom*

"How much longer?" my agent asks, referring to my next book.

She's anxious to start making the rounds to publishers, to start shopping it. The publishing world pays lip service to quality, but the greenbacks flow most freely to those who can produce a novel a year. Two a year? You're golden.

I'd call myself bronze, at best. I'm lucky if I write a first draft in fifteen months. Two years is more realistic.

"It's summer," I say. "Hard to get any writing done when the kids are home."

And that's true. But here's the thing: I don't want to get any writing done. I want to spend every waking moment with my children, because for the first time since the oldest started kindergarten, I am acutely aware of how few days I have left to watch them while they sleep, or to cook enough decent meals so that they remember me as the mom who fed them well instead of plopping another pizza on the dinner table.

Why this realization?

My oldest daughter is about to leave for college. The younger one, who just entered tenth grade, is not far behind.

I should feel lucky. The parents I know who have college bound kids have already bid their goodbyes. But my daughter's school of choice doesn't start until mid-September; we'll drive her up for move-in and orientation a few days before. So I have a few extra days to hug her and make sure she knows she'll always be my baby. Yeah, just want she wants to hear.

I can still remember vividly the day she climbed the tall steps of the school bus for the first time. We lived in the suburbs of Boston, and if autumn is synonymous with going back to school, autumn in New England, with its brilliant colors and scent of burning leaves in the air, is the quintessence of the season, at once inspiring and heartbreaking. I cried my eyes out when that bus pulled away.

My husband and I followed the bus. Yep, you didn't misread that. We followed the bus. Once we were no longer in our daughter's line of sight, we jumped in our car and quickly started the engine. Turn for turn, stop for stop, we trailed it like two spies in a James Bond movie. When the bus pulled up to the school and lined up behind the other buses to unload the children, we made a small detour, abandoned our car in the parking lot, and took our hiding places behind a bush to watch our daughter disembark. Would she be crying? Would the fear and bewilderment I was sure I'd see on her face cause me to start bawling all over again? Would the school keep the implicit promise it made to all parents and make sure she made it safely from bus to building, building to bus, bus back home again? My husband held our video camera to film this momentous occasion; I lay in wait, ready to spring forward and save the day if our little girl needed our assistance.

When she stepped down, ballet slipper bookbag on her back and posture straight with pride, I smiled. I cried, too, but they were tears of joy. Our Jessie was going to be just fine.

They say you have to cut the cord. It's painful, but all parents do it, sooner or later. I asked both of my girls recently, "Am I a helicopter parent?" The answer was a quick and resounding, "No! Not at all!" I had the sense they knew a few, and I was happy not to be among them. Yet at the same time, I wondered whether I'd been there enough, whether I'd spent too much time with my novels and not enough with my children.

When the last box is set on her dorm room floor, when we've met the roommates and deemed them acceptable, when we've said our final goodbyes and left her behind to start her new life, I only hope my scissors are sharp enough.

My husband, meanwhile, will probably be following her to her first class, video camera in hand.

*(originally published in the Sept/Oct 2010 issue of Lake Mary Life Magazine)