Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Preparing for life's big changes

From Saturday's Briefing:

It's not even Christmas, but we're planning Spring Break 2017, and the same question keeps running through my head: How did we get here so fast?

This year's spring break will be a road trip devoted to visiting college campuses for my 15-year-old, halfway through his sophomore year of high school, eager to find an engineering school that fits.

Is Cooper ready for full-fledged college independence? Not yet.

He's struggling to wake up to an alarm clock. He's tried sleeping with the clock next to his bed, but he would turn it off and fall back asleep. So he moved it across the room, presumably forcing him to get out of bed and perhaps wake up enough to stay out of bed.

Nope. Instead, the new location prevents him from hearing the alarm at all, and he sleeps through incessant beeping until I open the door and wake him.

We've got two and a half (super fast) years to find a solution for the alarm plus some time management and priority issues.

The good news: He's got a whole bunch of other life skills down, partly the product of years as a Boy Scout and living in a home with a single mom. He can prepare simple meals and, if pressed, take care of laundry. He takes out the trash, changes light bulbs, moves furniture, can access the attic on his own.

This week Cooper noticed that my tire light was on. The next day he was in the driveway, checking the pressure on each minivan tire.

He's a problem solver with initiative. He can carry on a conversation with adults. He can advocate for himself.

We've casually visited a few colleges already, more as tourists than as prospective student and parent. These days, he fits right in, standing 6-feet-3, walking and speaking with confidence.

To strangers, perhaps Cooper already looks like college material. The two of us ate dinner out last weekend, and the waiter offered him a wine list. (We both declined and enjoyed sparkling water instead.) He ate caviar for the first time and instantly approved.

After, we attended a Dallas Symphony Orchestra concert. All those years of children's theater performances - and expectations about staying seated, staying quiet and applauding politely - paid off. He has impeccable concert manners. Years of music instruction have paid off, too. He knows more about music than I do, and filled me in during intermission.

Am I ready for him to leave? Not yet.

Everyone tells you that the time flies by, and I totally believed them all, but nothing compares to actually experiencing it.

The shift from total dependence to near independence somehow happens gradually and all at once. This evolution is especially poignant during the holiday season, when my memories of toddler Cooper, mesmerized by the magic of Christmas, blur with teen Cooper, on whom I now rely to decorate the very top of our tree.

The well of holiday memories is deep - annual visits with Santa, candlelight at Dallas Heritage Village, Children's parade downtown, strolls through NorthPark, Christmas Eve with grandparents, gifts and baked French toast on Christmas morning. Some of those traditions we've outgrown, others we'll continue long after our schedules aren't defined by a school calendar.

How did we get here so fast? With little moments we no longer remember and lessons that scaffold with each passing year and big moments we'll never forget.
Are we ever really ready for the next big step? Our readiness is irrelevant - they happen regardless. We adapt, we live the new normal, and we eventually celebrate the memories we've created. We keep moving forward.

Tyra Damm is a Dallas native, veteran journalist, fourth-grade teacher and Dallas Morning News Briefing columnist since 2008. She lives in Frisco and writes about family life and parenting. She can be reached at tyradamm@gmail.com

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