Gabe’s First Day at The Big House or “That Guy is only 16? I Thought He Sang Lead for ZZ Top.”

Around the first week of August, 2015, I drove my son, Gabe, to his first day at what I had, up to that point, referred to as “the big house.” His first day of high school had arrived with little fanfare. He hadn’t seemed nervous at all which was not terribly surprising. He had already moved from the child development center at our church to the elementary school for kindergarten and then, after 4th grade, from the elementary school to the middle school. Those transitions hadn’t been a big deal so there was no reason to think his move to the high school would be much different. And, in all honesty, it wasn’t…except from the time we pulled into the parking lot of the school until the time I turned left onto Highway 14 to make the short drive back home. Not for him, mind you. He handled it like the calm, cool, and well-adjusted young man he was becoming. If his dad had ever been calm, cool, and well-adjusted (not likely) it wouldn’t be happening that morning, at least not in those four or five minutes of time spent in the drop off line.

The first wave of emotion hit me as I turned off the main driveway of the school onto the part that would wind its way up to the front door. It was then that I noticed all the cars that had already arrived and parked in the main parking lot in front of the school. Not teachers and administrators and other staff…students. Students who were old enough to drive. A car. Alone. To school. They looked so big compared to the skinny little, fair-haired boy who sat next to me, apparently unmoved by the scene unfolding in front of us. Teenagers of every sort greeted friends they hadn’t seen since school dismissed for the summer back in May. Big teenagers. There were guys with beards standing next to behemothian four wheel drive vehicles with lights and stickers and huge wheels. There were young ladies wearing makeup with splendidly coiffed hair and looking every bit old enough to put on a pantsuit (does anyone wear pantsuits anymore now that Hillary Clinton spends most of her time roaming the woods outside NYC instead of campaigning) and go to work at some office crunching numbers or selling real estate or running a company or any number of other incredibly important jobs. Anyway, in that moment, I realized how young and little my boy was, at least compared to these kids, and I felt a little nervous for him. Heck, I felt nervous for me! How would he handle the much stronger and freer personalities of these older kids? What if some big dude decided to pick on him? How could he defend himself against them? How would I handle the various and sundry situations that could crop up in this new, similar, yet very different environment? I almost panicked. I might have thought homeschooling sounded pretty darn good all of a sudden. I could probably learn the new math if I absolutely had to!

We made a right turn and then another right turn and there we were, on the homestretch to the front door where what looked like hundreds of younger kids mingled with a few older ones who, for whatever reason, hadn’t been able to drive themselves to school that day. The sense of foreboding grew more intense as I scanned the crowd for a familiar face, wanting to be able to say to Gabe, “Isn’t that so-and-s0? You can go stand with them until they open the doors. They’re nice, right?” We finally made our way to the unloading zone and I saw Gavin. Gabe knew Gavin, also a freshman, and assured me that they were friends. As quickly as we pulled up and stopped, he reached into the back seat, got his backpack, and opened the door. Here it was. The moment was at hand. Time for a quick word of fatherly advice and encouragement, right? I guess so. If you consider, “Have a great day! I love you!” to be the stuff of inspiration then, in the parlance of my people, I cranked a sho’nuff dinger that day. “Love you, too” he replied and then the door slammed and he was gone. At the risk of the parent behind me honking their horn to get me moving along, I watched him walk away. Probably no more than five seconds. There was no hint of reluctance or fear on his face or in his gait. I took my foot off the brake, crept over two speed bumps, and made the final right turn that would take me to the traffic light that, with its green hue, would guide me away from my little boy at that big school with all those big people.

And on that 200 yard stretch of asphalt from the corner of the building to the traffic light, I cried. Hard. I guess I really wasn’t completely sure why at the moment but in hindsight, I think it was the realization that my little boy was no longer a little boy. That sounds so cliched, I know, but I guess one of the reasons cliches are repeated so often is that there is so much truth in them. I think in those moments that morning, somewhere in the deepest recesses of my memory, maybe even subconsciously, I saw Gabe as a baby and felt the unexplainable joy of holding him for the very first time. I saw him as the toddler who put practically every toy he had that would fit into a hole in the back of our old recliner. When we bought a new and moved the old one out, it was like Christmas for him getting all those toys back! When that many memories start kicking around, even in your subconscious, you’ll have a rush of emotions of some sort. Mine, whatever sort they were, exited my body that day in the form of tears and what my dad would’ve referred to as blubberin’. Bless the poor people who had to look upon me as I sat in the line to exit the campus that day. I’m not much to look at on my best day. When I cry, I’m ugly as a mud fence.

Gabe is now in the final few months of his sophomore year and he’s not only survived at the big house, he’s thrived and I couldn’t be more proud. But that’s really not my point. As we slide in toward his 16th birthday next month, he has he has grown to be almost as tall as me and he looks more and more like a man and less like a kid practically every day. When school starts next year, he’ll be one of those kids…er…students who pulls his car into the parking lot and greets friends he might not have seen since school got out. He probably won’t have a beard but he’ll be even bigger than he already is while some other poor, nervous dad or mom drops their freshman off at that same front door I did in 2015. And now, at long, laborious last, here is my point, another cliche: TIME FLIES. Gabe is big and tall and will be driving himself around in only a few weeks. In a real car and not a plastic John Deere Gator. His little sister will be 11 in less than three weeks and, if things go as they did with Gabe, she’ll be sauntering up to the front door of the high school in the blink of an eye herself and I’ll wonder again where the time has gone.

The kids won’t be little forever. We’ve got to love them and teach them how to live in the limited time we have with them. Before they go off to college and get a job and get married and, well, you know how the story goes. You and I won’t live forever so making the most of today is of paramount importance, not just for our kids but for all of us.

Here’s to hoping I can do a better job in the days I have left of living in the moments that are and not the ones that have been or may never be. Hopefully, I can encourage others to do the same. I aim to try harder to do just that. Life is brief and entirely too short to spend so much of it in fretful anxiety. I’ll try it if you will.

Psalm 118:24, John 10:10, Matthew 6:25-34






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