Weekend Wanderer: When Your Teen Leaves the Nest

weekend wanderer

Spring break has come and gone, and so has my daughter’s childhood. 

Wow. That’s melodramatic. 

True, but melodramatic. 

Let’s start with the driver’s license. She got it two weeks ago. 

And my nerves are fizzing like a Fourth of July sparkler. 

Any parent with a licensed teen has felt this way — that visceral fear the first time their kid leaves the driveway. The visions of Fast & Furious-level car crashes are just unstoppable and totally interfere with your ability to stealthily follow your child’s car with your own. 

I’m kidding. I didn’t follow her. Well, I don’t follow her. I don’t. 

It was just that once. 

I know what I sound like. I do. But the legion of fears when your teen is driving! Drunk drivers and California rolls. Aggressive drivers and 70-miles-per-hour speed limits. Rutger Hauer and the Terminator 2 cop. And remember The Day After Tomorrow? When the tornado hitting Los Angeles crushed that car? 

All of that. I fear all of that. 

For a solid week, my stomach was a writhing knot of snakes.  

And you guys know how much I love snakes

I peeled all the polish from my fingernails. I ate every cookie in the house. I paced so much my Apple Watch dinged. 

“You’re walking,” it said. “Would you like to log a workout?” 

No, Siri. No. I don’t want to log a workout. I want to take my baby back to that little room at Jefferson where I birthed her. Where we had round-the-clock medical care and security guards and nobody was Tokyo-drifting toward my child’s car. 

That’s what I want. 

Jason Statham can come if he wants. In fact, I insist upon it. 

And — as if driving wasn’t enough of a horror — we’ve begun touring colleges. 


She’s a junior. Come autumn, we’ll complete the FAFSA and Common App. In less than 18 months, she’ll be gone. 

We hope.  

It’s paradoxical, that hope. I am like the two-faced god, Janus. One face is looking ahead to my daughter’s impending adulthood.  

But one face is looking back, at the onesies and sticky faces and pet goldfish and math tests and wondering how did we get so far, so fast? 

Although, I don’t miss the goldfish. Why those things always had to die when the dog was dying, or my husband was fishing on a remote lake, or Valentine’s Day — I don’t get it. Did they plan it? Are goldfish vindictive?  

It was probably the fake plants. They wanted real plants in their little bowl, right? Real plants and they would have held out until after I’d gotten my Valentine’s Day groove on. 

Joke’s on you, you little orange punks. Do you know how easy it is to convince a preschooler you’re just sleeping? 

Goldfish are the stupidest pet. 

Our college tour took us to North Carolina and Florida. We hit the North Carolina school on a warm Monday morning. Boarders and bikers zipped around campus. The red brick buildings beckoned with a collegiate air. The tour guide extolled the gym class on fencing with lightsabers. 

I’m not kidding. 

The only thing I have to say is there had better be a Klingon language course because I can’t send my kid to a school that has sided with a galaxy far, far away in the Star Wars vs. Star Trek debate. 

The Florida school, well, that school was to my daughter what dryer lint is to a campfire. She glowed, wandering those grounds.  

Water, water everywhere on that campus. The Gulf of Mexico lapped the school’s yard. Ponds and waterways pulsed through the grounds.  

“This is Florida,” our guide recited. He suggested treating all water as though it contained alligators. 

Because it probably does. 

He gestured to the pond we now stood beside. A 12-foot-long alligator had taken up residence in that pond, a few years back.  

The school, of course, let her stay. Named her even. 

Um, wow. If only I could go back to my concerns over allegiances to Star Wars. How pedestrian they felt in the face of the alligator! 

Ultimately, that alligator had to be relocated. Do you know why? 

You’ll want to know why. 

She was relocated because she insisted upon sunning herself on the sidewalk next to the pond. The sidewalk students used to move between classes. 


So besides the usual fears of sending a kid to college — booze and Mr. Blutarsky-level GPAs and pledging secret societies and the Mrs. Robinsons of the world — I have to fear alligators, too?  

As if my alligator phobia needed any encouragement. 

Worse, not only is my daughter planning to study marine biology, she plans to focus on sharks. Sharks! Is this how my kid rebels? By swimming with my terrible fears? Why doesn’t she just add a herpetology minor? 

I had a few moments alone at the Florida school. Strolling around the grounds, as it were, trying to feel at home. 

A lizard ran from beneath a bush. He looked at me, bobbing his nightmarish head. 

I stepped back at least the length of an alligator. “You,” I said, waggling a finger at him. “You.” 

You, what? I looked at him. That lizard. It occurred to me he was just a symbol, a physical manifestation of the fears I have for my kid. Nobody really thinks their kid will get eaten by an alligator. But they do think they’ll get eaten by a cruel, cruel world. 

I looked at the lizard again. 

Nope. I was afraid of the lizard.  

And for my kid. 

Don’t worry, don’t worry. I know how the song goes. Most of all, the kid’s the one you have to hide it from. 

Guess I’ll just put those fears in the pantry.  

With my cupcakes. 

Then I’ll eat every single one. 

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