It’s time for Spring sports at our high school and my daughter has decided to run track. Yesterday as I drove to run a quick errand, I spotted her trotting against traffic on the sidewalk with her team and I’m telling you, I wanted to pull over. “Are you thirsty? You seem hot. Why aren’t you wearing shorts in this warm weather? Are you still self conscious about that mole on your leg? I was self conscious about being so white, DON’T BE LIKE YOUR MOM! Oh, that’s right, you are SO not like your mom. What a relief! I was (past tense?) such a piece of work. You’re doing great, honey! Keep up the pace, but be careful and don’t get separated from the group! I’m so proud of you.” It all went through my head. Instead I just waved and smiled, and watched her narrow, determined form disappear in my rear view mirror. There are so many truths in this moment. She’s happy. She’s working hard. She’s setting goals and resolving to get the best out of her high school experience. She’s thriving.
Her mama, however. Her mama is grateful, proud, and excited for her. But still, mama wants to pull over. Here’s when the hardest but more important truth hits: It’s not my job to pull over, it’s my job to let her run.
Monday, I needed to stop by the school to write a check to the Athletic Department (another part of my job, just sit down and write checks. All day long. The checks never tire of this exercise.) As it turned out, when I arrived at the school it appeared to be lunch time because kids were everywhere. Girls giggled and texted in one corner, boys unengaged with headphones in their ears occupied another corner, and as I neared the Athletic office there was a young couple occupied in a heated but hushed exchange on Whatever It Is That Hormonal Teenage Couples Talk About. I walked past, entered the office to pay our dues and then walked out. I began to text Samantha to let her know that all the paperwork was in order for her to attend practice after school. “But wait,” my head said to me. Just like that. Sadly, my head doesn’t always have the best instincts. “But WAIT! She’s probably right there in the lunch room, I bet I can find her.” I peered through the window and looked around; some random kid waved and smiled at me as if to say, “I pity the fool on the other end of THAT search”. I waved back, and then just beyond him I discovered the red sweatshirt I was looking for.
I KNOW. Poor Samantha.
I had found her, and I was on my way to her table.
It suddenly felt like I was in slow motion – mom walks slowly, meets gaze of daughter, daughter tries to hide humiliation but she’s not well taught, mom walks past kid in the carpool who smiles as if to say, “You drive me to school once a month, so this is probably what I’m supposed to do, but DUDE. SO GLAD you’re not here for ME.” Students all around turn their heads to see who the unlucky candidate for The Mom Visit is, and as I reach Samantha’s table she looks up because she has no other choice. Her smile is forced, “Heeeey, MOM.” And just like that, I feel like Patricia Heaton in a scene from The Middle. “Hi honey!” I said. I explained that her dues were paid up and she was all set to go to practice after school. “That’s…great! NOW CAN YOU PLEASE GO SO I CAN HAVE TIME TO HEAL BEFORE MY SENIOR PROM?”
I felt like an idiot walking out of the school. Not, “Dang it, I forgot my keys” kind of an idiot, more like, “The cutest boy in school just called me for my best friend’s phone number” kind. It’s not like I expected her to run to me and give me a bear hug, but I thought I was at least cool enough to say “hi” to without looking like I’d rather cut off my head and shove it into a vat of lemon juice.
But alas, mama’s still learning. It’s not easy to let you run by yourself baby girl, but I’m catching on. I may not pull over to the side of the road as you finish your last mile, but one thing is for sure – I can’t wait to see where those shoes take you. And when you get there, I'll be waiting. Probably in the front row, waving madly and wearing a bad sweater, but I'll be there.