Back to School Night

A Micro-Memoir

Twenty-two years compressed into three short chapters

Chapter 1: The Victory Lap

I was looking forward to Back to School Night. The first door to close in our twin daughters’ senior year, like an advent calendar in reverse.

It was to be the final and twenty-second consecutive Back to School Night of my parenting career. If I counted the years when our kids were divided between two, sometimes three, school campuses, the total would increase by a half a dozen or so. For efficiency sake, my internal tally was of just the singular annual benchmark event.

My grand finale Back to School Night was to be the completion of the circle, similarly to how I like to start and stop my runs at the same spot, touching the smooth gray pole to honor the finish.

In my mind’s eye, I saw myself taking a victory lap around the halls where each of our four children went to high school. In the shuffle of parents, I would recognize a few of the same faces from the elementary and middle school years. We would give each other a kindred nod from across the bobbing heads. A grateful, somewhat resigned, acknowledgment of our random good fortune to have arrived at this point that once seemed light-years away.

Chapter 2: The Trajectory

My younger parent-self attended those first Back to School Nights, notebook in hand, with a nieve surefootedness. I attentively listened, read all the handouts, and signed up for the PTA and every committee with a fierce belief that I could get it all right. The possibility of perfect parenting seemed rational and learnable, like a recipe or math equation.

That was before the twelve-year storm of non-stop and over-lapping adolescence.

For each of our kids, senior year is when the gale-force winds die down a bit. But the calm comes with a new distance, as it should, that they guard like a demilitarized zone. By senior year, I awaken to the fact that they live most of their lives behind the checkpoint.

On the afternoon of my final Back to School Night, my girls texted me separately that none of their friends’ parents were going. It would be weird if I went, Twin A added.

I was undeterred by their thinly veiled embarrassing-parent-prevention strategy, although my husband gladly took them up on their suggestion.

I had a circle to close.

Chapter 3: The Grackles

It went against my nature to find myself standing alone in the small gym where I work and not at my daughters’ school. I watched the minute hand tick across the start time of what would have been my twenty-second Back to School Night.

I was not going.

I felt defiant, yet there was a lightness to my choice as if I was flying up above my life, without a bit of heaviness, regret, or disappointment.

When I closed my eyes, I saw the grackles that sit on the telephone wires at the major intersection near our house. Often, as I wait for the red light to turn green, I watch the flock take flight from their perch and spill across the sky, separating and merging, to form mesmerizing fluid swaths of expanding and contrasting patterns.

I marvel at how they intuitively burst into the air, in unison, and then just as spontaneously, land. The birds make the time in-between look like it matters most.

Moving to the floor, I set up for a final round of pushups, the end of a workout I had planned to miss.

Lower down. Press up. Breathe.

The time in-between matters most.