It took me a few moments to realize why I was crying on the second day of school. Who cries on the second day of middle school? Hell, most parents don’t cry on the first. Kindergarten, yes. But middle school?
Unfortunately, this situation is anything but normal.
You see, on March 15, 2016, the last time I would ever speak to my son while he was alive, I drove him to school. Middle school. We were in a rush, because he had to be there by 7:15 for jazz band practice, and I was running behind. I pulled up in front of the school and slid the gear into park and said, “Don’t forget to turn in your math homework.”
“Have a good day. I love you.”
“Love you, too. Bye.”
It was our final goodbye, although I didn’t know it at the time. I cannot tell you how many times since that day I have felt grateful that we weren’t sniping at each other; that I wasn’t upset about something he’d said or done, that he wasn’t mad at me for some parenting thing or another. It had been a normal day, like any other. Until it wasn’t.
Fast-forward five months to today, and we’re rushing to get out the door (largely because my daughter is not and never has been a morning person, one aspect that is 180 degrees different from her brother). As we’re driving down the road, heading to school, she is rearranging the supplies in her backpack while I’m trying to coax her into eating the Pop-Tarts she snagged on the way out the door. I know her; if she doesn’t eat she gets hangry, and they don’t do mid-morning snacks in middle school.
And then we’re at the school, and I’ve pulled up in front and dropped the gear into park. “Have a great day,” I say. “I love you. See you after work.”
“Love you, too. Bye.”
And she’s off, heading toward the building, determined to get to her first class on time. I shift the car into drive and cruise through the parking lot toward the road, and I’m waiting for traffic to clear so I can turn, when the tears start. “Why am I crying?” I say out loud as I dig a tissue out of the console.
That’s when the memory of that day in March hits me.
Other than the first day of school every year, I’ve never driven my daughter to school. She has always taken the bus. I didn’t start driving my son to school until halfway through seventh grade, just a few months before it all ended. He didn’t like his bus driver, and I literally drove past his school every day, so it wasn’t an inconvenience, other than his school started a bit later, so he usually had to wait outside the doors until they would let the students in, because I had to get to work. He insisted he didn’t mind.
Now, my daughter is in a new school, and while it is slightly out of my way to drop her off before heading to work, it’s only a mile or so, and her school starts early, so it works out to be exactly when I would leave for work anyway.
So I get to relive that horrible day in March, every school day, for the foreseeable future. I haven’t told my daughter this, and I don’t plan to (luckily, she doesn’t read my blogs). She doesn’t like it when I cry, so I do my best to hide it from her. My therapist says I shouldn’t, that I should show her it’s okay to cry. But I don’t, because I know how she feels. I hate it when my parents are sad, too. She’s an empathetic girl, almost too much so, and I know my pain causes her pain. Since it’s a pain that will never go away no matter what I do, I see no point in drawing attention to it.
Instead, I’ll tell her I love her every day. And I will strive to never, ever be upset with her when I drop her off for school in the morning.
And I’ll make sure the middle console in my car is stocked with tissues.