Pants on Fire

Pants on Fire

I hear a heavy sigh from the passenger seat as I turn into the school parking lot. We’re headed to open house the Thursday before school starts and Nola, though she had spent a good couple of hours getting ready, is clearly displeased.

She knew this day was coming but the sight of the building made it impossible to hide from the facts:

No more sleeping until afternoon.

No more lazy days on the couch, remote in one hand and phone in the other.

No more middle-of-the-week sleepovers.

No more staying up after mom goes to bed.

To all these things, I say a hearty, “Yay!!!!!” I’ve been ready for the first day of school since about the middle of June. Or so I thought.

Nola, on the other hand, acts as if she’s off to face the firing squad.

I ignore this obvious attempt to engage me in the “I don’t want to go back to school” conversation, but it’s more difficult to disregard the audible groan that follows.

“What’s up,” I say, as I attempt to navigate the close quarters of the parking lot without hitting either car or human. It’s not as easy as you might think, considering that everyone seems to forget the rules of the road as soon as they turn in to the lot. Don’t believe me? Try driving through a car line — doesn’t matter which school you choose — and see if you don’t lose your mind.

“I really don’t want to be here,” the elaborately dressed and primped to the hilt 14-year-old girl beside me says.

“Liar,” I think to myself as a murmur a “mmm-hmmm” of what I hope sounds like sympathy.

Why don’t I believe her? Because the moment we turned onto her school’s road, she sat up a little straighter, fussed with her newly cropped hair and began scanning the cars around us for people she knows. In fact, before I even put the car in park, or even come to a complete stop, for that matter, she spies her best friend and opens the door to hop out.

From that moment on, I couldn’t pry her away. The open house started at 6 and ended at 8; Caroline’s mother and I finally dragged the two girls out the front door at about 8:20. In between those two times, we couldn’t keep up with them. Remember when you took your little one for her first day of school and she trailed behind you like a baby duckling? Guess who the duckling is now? Oh, how the tide has turned.

Anyway, I sat beside her (or, I should say, Nola reluctantly consented to let me join her and her friends) for the first half of orientation in the theater, but she soon shook free and I found myself sitting alone. Fortunately, I found another couple of moms. Together, we sat on the back row, occasionally making snarky comments we wouldn’t feel comfortable voicing around our children.

After an introduction from the principal and an uncomfortable PTO hard-sell, the ninth graders were separated from the rest of the pack and stuck around for a presentation by the guidance counselor.

Now, I’m sure I’m not the only parent who naïvely thought this would be similar to orientation for kindergarten or middle school: welcoming, hopeful, happy and kind. After all, Nola may be a ninth grader, but she’s brand-spanking new to this whole high school thing. I assumed there’d be some time to ease them into it.

No such luck. A very stern looking woman (or so I remember; I’m sure she’s very nice) proceeded to scare the crap out of me with her talk of GPAs, PSATs, SATs and extracurriculars. She had a PowerPoint presentation which showed how a bad first semester of ninth grade could ruin a student’s GPA UNTIL THE END OF TIME! She gave out a thick packet of information on scholarship opportunities, study tips, websites to be utilized, and stressed the importance of planning and keeping up with extracurricular activities. No time to enjoy ninth grade, people; you’ve got to start preparing for college!

By the end, I was in full-on panic mode. Sure, I’m more than ready for Nola to go back to school, but am I prepared for this kind of pressure? No way. And I’m not even the one going back to school.

By the time we walk back out to the car in what little remains of the sunlight, Nola is practically skipping with glee (the talk apparently didn’t phase her) and I’m dragging, already weighed down with the pressure of the upcoming school year. Looks like Nola and I both told ourselves some little white lies.

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