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The final days of the K-12 posse

What to do about those who nurtured your child through the years.

September 05, 2009|April Smith | April Smith's latest Ana Grey mystery is "Judas Horse."

When our daughter leaves for college, she will be taking with her 507 people. That is the number of teachers, tutors, coaches, pediatricians, classmates and their parents, teammates and their parents, baby-sitters, camp counselors and neighborhood pals who swept in and out of our house from preschool to that blessed day of high school graduation.

I know, because I have compulsively saved all my Filofax calendars back to 1991, the year she was born. I also have diaries dating to our son's birth in 1985. Including his human chain of support, I realized that a thousand or so living souls who were once day-to-day fixtures will, with the departure of our youngest, be gone from our lives.

I didn't know I had that many friends. Actually, I didn't. But soul-mates or not, they were on my schedule and in my mind.

And the orderly ladder of years from K through 12 was the organizing principle of our family life. But when you reach that last rung, I can tell you, the sturdy old ladder starts to sway.

In the last inning of the baseball playoff series at Santa Monica High School in May, the dad in the next camp chair turned to me: "They started in Little League and now it's high school, and if we don't get to the championships ... ." He shrugged.

We lost, and he and I shared an uneasy moment of vertigo. His son and my daughter had been boyfriend and girlfriend for three years in high school -- but in September would we even recognize each other on the street?

"A lot of friends come and go. You can walk down the halls and not even say hi to someone, even though you were really close awhile ago," was my daughter's take on this sort of thing. "That's high school stuff."

What comes after high school stuff? I'd been looking forward to alone time with my husband, but with the absence of all those other "guests," the house is going to be a lot quieter and the calendar a lot less jampacked with commitments like classroom volunteering, swim lessons, recitals -- in fact, none of the above. As a working mom, you'd think this would be a relief, and I'll admit it, I won't miss the horror known as college applications, or sharing the bleachers with psychotic sports parents, or the mommy mafia, with its enemies and alliances that would rival the medieval Italian city-states.

But some of the 507 were beloved teachers for both of us. My daughter's first riding instructor was a cowboy named Shane at Will Rogers State Park when it still had horses. She was 5 -- not so sure about cantering -- so he hopped up on the horse's rump and held her in the saddle. She'll carry that feeling of security forever. And later, the women at the dressage barn in Topanga welcomed her as an equal. Where was I? Driving and waiting and watching, and letting her go.

There were outstanding teachers in the Santa Monica public schools who quietly changed my daughter's life -- Mrs. Whitley, who taught her how to write a paper in fifth grade, and Mrs. Anderson, whose biology class was the best thing that could happen to you in eighth.

We had such sweet and sustaining relationships with neighborhood families, many since preschool. Will those endure?

"It takes a year to recover," advised a friend whose boys have been gone for a while. "I miss them, but it's not incapacitating. And it's much easier to get along with your husband when there's no stress machine in the house."

It's time to let go of the 507. Those Filofax pages are so overwritten with arrows and cross-outs -- for the support staff necessary to raise a child -- that they look like ancient maps. And what treasures! Even the guy who brings lizards to birthday parties. I can't honestly say I miss him. Yet.

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