It’s start of her second week at high school and my daughter all excited (now she’s actually there and making new friends) says
‘Can I go to the football game this week?’
I’m a ‘super fan of a TV series called Friday Night Lights about a high school football team. I have imagined being the mum of a football fan on the show, so I say yes without asking where or when it is.
My first mistake.
I assume, since all I know about American High School football is from Friday Night Lights, that the game will be on a Friday. I’m wrong . On Thursday lunchtime I receive a text from my daughter
‘The football game is tonight. ‘x’s mum will take me – but can you bring us back?’
‘Yes’ I type without asking when or where.
My second mistake.
When she gets home she says her friend’s mum will pick her up at 6.30pm but remember I need to collect them. At this point I finally do ask when and where.
‘I’ll text you’ she says blithely. But I am wise to this at least. I’ll message you she says as drop her off at friends houses, or the mall, or for a theatre rehearsal. Then the hours go by and no message. I send increasingly frantic texts asking when and where, finally I’ll get a text saying sorry she didnt have her phone but can I collect her in 10 minutes? So when she says I’ll text you I say
‘No tell me when and where!’
That’s when I remember why there are ‘lights’ in the title of my TV show. Its because the games take place at night. This game starts at 7pm and finishs around 10pm and the lights are need to illuminate the field. What’s more, rather than the game being 10 minutes away at her high school, its 25 minutes away at some stadium I never been to. That’s very late for me (as I’m normally in bed by 9.30) and a long drive on unfamiliar streets in the dark.
I shake my head and sigh.
‘But you promised’ she insists.
‘OK, but I’ll pick you up at 8.30 not later’.
Belatedly it occurs to me to ask if she has had work to do that night? ‘No’ she says, ‘it’s all done.’ I believe her.
My third mistake.
She changes outfit – compulsory high school T-shirt (for cheering team on) and shorts.
‘Won’t you get cold in shorts? I ask. ‘Your new jeans would look nice’
My forth mistake.
Never, ever, criticise a high schooler’s clothes. If what they are wearing is clean and in dress code remember it is their life. But that doesn’t stop her asking everyday. So after only two weeks mornings before high school have me almost nostalgic for the frantic clean school uniform search in the UK. ‘Wheres my tie? This is the wrong pleated skirt!’. At least then it wasn’t up to her (or me) what she wore.
At 8pm she rings me, over the sound of laughter and cheers she asks
‘Can I stay later?’ X’s dad will bring me home. Its really good here’
I can hear her friends talking to her in the background. I start to waver: not wanting to affect her friendship and, honestly, relieved at avoiding the drive.
This would have been my fifth mistake.
But my husband takes the phone and tells her firmly that ‘it’s a school night, she’s been complaining of being tired all week. So he will come and collect her at the agreed time. This turns out to be the right call.
The next morning even though she came home early she is shattered. What is more she is desperately trying to finish the school work, that she claimed she didn’t have the night before! But she smiles to tell me that her friend texted her to tell that their team went on to win!
It occurs to me then that parenting a high schooler is a bit like it was parenting a toddler. A high schooler just like a toddler lives in a world where their immediate needs feel pressing and all important. When saying no provokes tantrums and when small rewards right now (hanging out with friends) always seems to take precedent of more significant rewards later (good grades).
I know I need to give her freedom to explore the new and unfamiliar world of high school. I don’t want to stop her going out. In the not too distant future she will be an adult out there on her own. But right now she needs training wheels on her bike. Help to see the consequences she doesn’t, to give her world a structure she can’t yet manage independently. It involves saying no – something I hate – and being consistent something I am really bad at! So High School will be challenging for us both! But I’ll learn and next time I will make less mistakes!
I’m not going to stop her going to football games. She loved watching the game standing with her friends cheering loudly for ‘their team’. Even my husband said it looked amazing when he went to collect her: the football team illuminated under bright outdoor lights, crowds cheering in the stands and cheerleaders chanting on the sidelines.
But next time she asks to go to the High School football game before I say yes I will ask; when? where? what homework have you got? what will you wear? Even if I do like the thought of being a character in Friday Night Lights with my daughter going to the high school football game!