Sitting at the Intersection

My friend was in a car accident a year ago. A pretty big one. Big enough to crush his suburban into a small ball and launch it across a busy intersection. In the days following the accident, he told us the story. How he was stopped at a stoplight. How he looked in his rear view mirror. How he saw the large white plumbing truck speeding toward him with no sign of slowing, much less stopping. And how those few split seconds, when impact was inevitable, seemed to defy the limitations of time. They were slow, heightened, terrifying, calm.

I feel that way a little bit right now. Like I’m sitting at the stoplight at the intersection of summer and fall.

At first, I don’t notice it much. At first, it seems like just another traffic signal. But then suddenly I look in the rear view mirror and I see huge truck pummeling towards me; the big Back to School vehicle is approaching at speeds that must be illegal or at least irresponsible. Every lazy summer day, slow morning at the library, chill afternoon at the pool, or (when we’re lucky) sea-breezed moment playing at the beach, evaporates. It’s a reality I’m not sure I’m willing to face, particularly because this back to school season is a big one.

This back to school season, my oldest is heading to Kindergarten.

Let me be clear—I’m a huge fan of new beginnings. New Year’s Eve and Day are my favorite holidays. I also like the unofficial, but very important Phoenix holiday—the first Monday in August—when everyone commits to ridding themselves of the 5 to 8lb “marine layer” they acquired on the beach while trying to escape the unforgiving desert temps. And I usually love back to school, because it’s always been preschool. I loved getting back to the routine. To normalcy.

But years ago my mother told me about the day I got on the school bus that first day of kindergarten. And how I waved out the window. And how she waved until long after the bus was no longer in sight. And how she cried. “But,” she said. “Nothing could prepare me for when you got off the bus that afternoon… You grew up. In a mere three short hours… you were different. Just like that.”

It’s as if the first day of kindergarten was some strange place—a place that defies the limitations of time. And the moment of impact was so intense, my mother can still remember it in detail thirty years later. That day is coming for me…

So here I am… sitting at the stoplight of the kindergarten crossroads, looking in the rear-view mirror, and knowing that impact is inevitable. That it has the potential to hit me with a force that can crumple my car and send me soaring across a crowded intersection…

In these moments, I think of my friend.

My friend who was recently in a car accident. Who, in those few precious moments before the inevitable impact, made a choice. He chose to let go. He released his hands from the wheel. His foot from the pedal. He relaxed his neck, his back, his soul. He couldn’t fight what was coming. Instead he removed any sign of resistance, and let it happen.

Certainly, kindergarten is not a life-threatening experience—for the child or the parent. And I am happy to say my friend walked away from that incident with minor injuries. But as Back to School quickly approaches and I am faced with the inevitable reality that my son’s growing up is an object in the mirror that is closer than it may appear… I plan to make the same choice my friend did.

To let go, take the impact, to walk away with a few scratches and a story to tell my son the day he sends his oldest to kindergarten.