That first day of high school

Though I'm not a morning person, on this day I have set my alarm for 6:15. Then I fall instantly back to sleep after it rings. Some noise my daughter makes in the bathroom, putting on makeup or curling her hair, wakes me just eight minutes later. Sluggishly I get up and get dressed, ready to help. In approaching Annie these days, timing is everything, so I go downstairs

and wait, bringing in the paper and feeding the cats. Her dad, up early, works calmly at his computer in the study.

At the right moment – not so early she'll think she still has too much to do, not so late she's rushing – I call up to her.

"If I make cottage-cheese pancakes, will you eat them?"

"No thanks, Mom."

"Anything else I can get for you?" Anything for my lovely 14-year-old daughter, now 2-1/2 inches taller than I am; anything to send her off properly in this great venture, her first day of high school.

"No, Mom."

So, instead, I grab vegetables to make an omelette for me, wishing I could feed her, wanting to rush back upstairs and offer a menu of choices so delectable that she would surely choose one.

But I don't. I breathe deeply and concentrate as I chop carrots, touch lacy leaves of fennel, slice stalks of celery, and cut zucchini.

"Mom," she hollers down to me. "I can't find my hair clip."

Having learned not to intrude, I call back tentatively, "Do you want me to help look for it?"

"Sure," she answers.

I trudge up the stairs and search everywhere, finding nothing. I wish I could magically come up with the missing clip, solving her problem in the same way I used to by picking her up and holding her tightly or kissing away any injury. But I am merely human now, and the clip stays lost.

Back downstairs, I watch the time. She has never taken a school bus before, and I know she ought to be at the corner a bit early.

"Annie, it's 7:25," I call up to her.

With a hint of exasperation, she responds: "I know, Mom."

Her dad abandons his work and joins me in the wait. She arrives downstairs, long light-brown hair curled, lips shining, eyes made up. She grabs a breakfast bar and her backpack, hugs us both, picks up her soccer bag, and steps out the door.

"Have a great day at school," we call after her.

Her dad stays at the door, but I follow her down the walk so I can catch a glimpse of the kids at the corner. She turns back one last time. She looks open and vulnerable yet quite ready to yell at me if I venture farther.

I retreat behind the large cedar tree on the corner of our lot and watch her walk down the sidewalk and stride across the street.

"You can come back in now," my husband calls to me.

Instead, I stay hidden as she joins the group of kids at the corner.

The long yellow bus pulls up to the corner, and the kids rush to get on. My daughter is the last one in the line.

I realize, though it's too late to remedy, that I forgot to tell her I love her. Perhaps she carries it away with her, anyway.

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