“Day before last,” I replied. Suddenly, I remembered when her son gave my son, then an orca fan, a “Save the Whales” sticker.
“How am I supposed to save the whales?” Nick had asked, seemingly overwhelmed by the task of rescuing whales when he was, in fact, just a six-year-old kid. The sticker was on my mini-van’s rear window until I got a new car last spring. Every time I backed up my van to go to soccer practice, the second grade “Extravaganza,” birthday parties at Chuck E. Cheese, the middle school orientation and Nick’s track meets, I was reminded to save the whales. Yet I haven’t, and neither has he.
Joanne and I took our seats in the high school cafeteria, and waited for the slide presentation to start. I looked around the room at the other parents, some who had been class moms with me, some whose kids I’d coached soccer, a few who’d had Nick’s killer whale drawings on their fridges, back when his classmates commissioned artwork from him in exchange for spare snacks in the elementary school cafeteria.
If eight years flew by, I wondered, what about the next four?
The presentation began, and we learned about honors courses and bio labs, elective classes in CAD and accounting, sex ed and Latin, and the fact that parents of student athletes can pretty much kiss our spring break vacations, not to mention the last two weeks of August, goodbye.
I watched the slides flip by, their bright-colored arrows showing the paths to college, and I thought, They’re watching. Every B-, every choice good or bad, every assignment left on the kitchen table, every flash drive that ends up in the dryer.
Colleges are watching my son, the one who had piles of construction paper filled with sketches of orcas on his bedroom floor. The child who sold lemonade at the end of the driveway. The kid who occasionally talks to me in a Russian accent for no apparent reason. The boy who wondered how he’d save the whales.
We left the high school that night with instructions on how to register for Freshman classes and an August date for the students’ orientation. In the parking lot, I talked to a friend whose daughter was in Nick’s second grade class. I remembered standing in their classroom, speaking in hushed tones over chocolate cupcakes about her cancer diagnosis. A year later, I’d have cancer, too.
“I’m coming up on six years,” she said.
“Four-and-a-half,” I offered. Four-and-a-half years into remission, and four-and-a-half years until college.
We hugged, and then I walked to my car, stuffing the orientation papers into my purse, which I dropped onto the passenger seat next to me. I put my car in reverse and turned around to look out the back window, where there’s no longer a reminder to save the whales.