Parenting a Freshman Requires Guesswork


The class of 2000 is wrapping up its freshman year at the high school across town. How does the class feel about this milestone? Don’t go there, OK? We could not possibly understand.

We can guess, that is all. But any guesswork would be based on what they told us back when they talked constantly and we understood everything. That seems like only yesterday, but a person can age a lifetime just by realizing that they’re not in middle school anymore.

Yesterday’s understanding becomes today’s old news, almost as old as Mom and Dad. Who suddenly are very, very old. How old? Don’t go there, OK? Just say they’re old enough to know better than to (a) use phrases like “don’t go there” and to (b) feel this wistful about the passage of time.


But who can help it? One minute you’re hip-deep in Velcro sneakers and princess wands, and the next, you’re delivering a lecture on how spelling does, in fact, count on the SAT. You sound like your own parents. Who suddenly are not old at all. In fact, the way things are going, it won’t be long before you and your mom are the same age. Who knows? You may even pull right past her, become your own grandma.

No, time waits for no one. Time, despite the immortal words of a certain old geezerhead, is not, never has been, on our side. Those guys in the Steve Miller Band were more on target: Time keeps on slippin’, slippin’, slippin’ into the future, which once seemed as distant as the thought of having the number 2000 in your kid’s yearbook date.


The future, they say, isn’t what it used to be. But there are days when it’s the same as it ever was--same teen angst, same midlife angst. Same sneaking feeling that the future is just one more of the many things we couldn’t possibly understand.

Better to stick to small talk. Perhaps begin with the innocuous, “Well, how was your freshman year?”

It was the kind of year in which the kid who used to do the ornate science projects back in fifth grade suddenly got really long legs, except that, incredibly, the rest of his body didn’t grow.

It was the kind of year in which the class metalhead sent a love note to the girl with the braces and the black lipstick, comparing her beauty to the lyrics of Marilyn Manson’s “Antichrist Superstar.”


It was the kind of year in which the phone was always tied up on three-way calls and star-69, the year you finally realized that the bilingual kids weren’t necessarily talking about you when they lapsed into Spanish or Cantonese.

It was a year of indecipherable gossip and high-tech phone pranks and objectionable satanic rock stars--a year from the future, where the world is still pretty much like high school. And where change still isn’t easy, for midlifers or for teens, or for growing souls of any age.

Running late to work, you grouse that your life has gotten out of hand, that you need to simplify, that you can’t even find time to shower anymore, for Pete’s sake. You sound like a freshman, you realize, and over in the passenger seat, the freshman realizes it too.

“Maybe you need to organize your mornings better,” the freshman suggests. You glance at her, cheerfully hefting a backpack the approximate size of a floor safe, and you think that if this were a sitcom, now would be your cue to give her a warm, parental smile and tell her where she could stuff her advice.

But you don’t, because even in the future, life thankfully is nothing like a sitcom, because it’s hard to make snappy retorts when you’re repressing a smile. Because she’s right. Because your head clears and you notice how beautiful and true she has become, how she has gone from kid to woman in what seems a semester or two.

You’d like to tell her this, tell her how proud you feel, but you’re misty and she couldn’t possibly understand. You know she’d just roll her eyes and flush and say urgently, “Omygod, don’t go there. OK?”


So you say, “I love you have a good day,” like always, and keep your marveling to yourself. Time may not be on your side, but it is surely on hers. Look at it, slipping into the--well, you know the song. It occurs to you suddenly that, the way things are going, it won’t be long before she’s her own grandma.