High School Registration
“Are you sure you have everything?......”
Vaughn and I slide into the front seats of my Ford Explorer in the driveway.
“Why don’t we check your folder? Do you have your transcript from Father Doyle?”
“Do you have your school transfer form? The one Mommy and I had to fill out”
“How about the registration form for Ponaganset”
“Okay, I think we’re good. Let’s go ………let’s go to Ponaganset” I intentionally say “Ponagsnet” with a slow drawl, adding some drama to my inflection.
The conversation I just had with Vaughn was an exercise -just practice, -trying to get Vaughn to be responsible and accountable for more “grown-up” tasks, as his counselor has told us. I’ve checked and re-checked every document in the folder, even including a color-coded post note to detail the document’s purpose. This is a big day, more for me than Vaughn – freshman high school registration. He is leaving his incredible small Catholic school, the one he started pre-kindergarten and all the way through 8th grade. Now, he will be entering a public high school in a different town with a freshman class of close to 300. Every time I think of this, my palms sweat. His eighth-grade class had just 16 students. Every teacher, every aide, every student, the principal – they all knew him, loved him, knew his uniqueness. He navigated every hallway and classroom in that small school so well after years of repetition and practice. Now, he’ll be in a bustling public high school, with its meandering hallways, rows of endless lockers, and loud and boisterous cafeteria – a true sensory stimulation nightmare, fraught with all sorts of newness and distractions.
“Looks like we’re good, let’s head out”, I say, hearing my own heavy sigh.
As we head down Scituate Avenue, I take in the scene of the drive, which we will do every day with Vaughn, his new bus route without a bus, because I could never, ever let him go to school on a public bus. Scituate Avenue is lined on either side with skeletal trees –typical of mid-March, cold, gray, colorless - where all of nature is waiting with expectancy for April, and all its promises of newness and spring. T.S. Eliot was wrong – April is not the cruelest month, it is surely March.
“This will be your drive to school Vaughn. You’ll be doing this every day – much longer than Father Doyle”
“Are you going to miss Father Doyle?”
“yeah, I guess…”
‘What are you going to miss the most?”
‘I don’t know. Probably algebra with Mr. Perreta”.
“Yeah, he’s great. He really really likes you”
“Wow, this drive is going to be much longer in the morning. You’re’ going to have to leave the house around 7:15”
“Mommy will drive you every day. Daddy – just every once in a while”.
After a pause of silence, I insert “So….why did you want me to come with you today? I mean……I wanna say…..I am really deeply flattered”
“well, you know all about my schoolwork and my grades and my classes and my teachers and staff. Plus, you ask me all the time about what I want to study and do……..”
“Yeah, I ask about that stuff because I care. Trust me Vaughn, academics are important, so important.”
“oh, here we are..”. I see the sign for Ponaganset on my left and turn into the school.
“Whoaaaaaaaaa”, I say out loud.
“What? What?” Vaughn says with a trace of panic in his voice.
“Wow, it’s just that it’s big, so much bigger than I thought”. As I pull around the rotary in front of the school, I take in the scene. The school seems enormous to be – intimidating in its size. I cannot tell f the building is one extremely oversized ranch or a series of multiple buildings that are connected in areas I cannot entirely see. How will my son navigate all of these hallways, sensory overload everywhere - lined with lockers, classmates talking loudly, overhead announcements, and posters highlighting the next school dance or home football game.
“Yeah, it’s definitely bigger than Father Doyle” I say to myself as we pull into a parking space.
Vaughn and I approach the front entrance of the school, which is festooned with signs indicating all the COVID protocols that must be followed in order to even enter the building.
“Let’s put on our masks,” I say to Vaughn while opening the door to the vestibule.
We are greeted by a well-marked registration visitor table as we enter the school.
“HIIIIIIIIIIII!” Vaughn says in his typically loud voice, his mask not minimizing the surprising volume.
“Well, hello there, young man” the woman at the registration table says with a smile. “are you here to register for your freshman classes?”
“Yes, yes I am” Vaughn responds. He is already rocking back and forth as he speaks, his current self-soothing stimming behavior. He is also clutching his left ear with this left hand – a telltale sign that his anxiety is increasing.
“Here you go” the woman says handing us a clipboard with paperwork. “you can wait in our sitting area and one of our counselors will be out shortly”
“Thhaaankkkkkssssss” Vaughn says, again surprisingly loudly.
Though I’ve already filled out a series of registration forms at home the length of a 19th century Russian novel, it appears that there are more forms to fill out -potential allergies, emergency contacts, and multiple acknowledgments “I consent” forms, which I don’t even completely read, surprising given my helicopter Dad tendencies.
“Hi there!” a young counselor with glasses approaches us with genuine enthusiasm. “are you ready to register?”
“Yes!” Vaughn and I chorus together.
“Wonderful! Why don’t the two of you follow me into the library?”
The library is a short walk from the waiting area – beautiful, impressive, and most striking of all, 2 stories. I can’t help but chuckle to myself as I think back to the library at Vaughn’s middle school – a small classroom converted to a makeshift library that always reeked of ammonia, with shelves only 3 rows high so that even the young students could reach every book.
“Wow, impressive Vaughn, huh?”
As we take our seats, I hand the mountain of paperwork over to the counselor. She dutifully sets them off to the side, and I am thankful she will not review everyone.
“May I have the school transfer authorization?”
“yes, it’s right on top there.”
The school transfer form allows my son to go to this school in a neighboring town, which Jen and I prefer for multiple reasons – its unique academic tracks, its commitment to diversity & inclusion, and deep community pride. Plus, we are no different from many parents in that we are most heavily influenced by word of mouth, several parent friends spoke so highly of the school that we made the decision to transfer Vaughn to Ponaganset instead of the high school in our town, Scituate.
“Well, I should tell you……” Vaughn starts, “I should go to Scituate, but my parents want me to come here, to Ponaganset”.
“Of course” the guidance counselor says with a smile, ‘and do you want to come here?”
“Oh yes! Two of my classmates are coming here – Connor and Alexis”
“can you send me back? I mean….it’s okay that I come to Ponaganset, right?”
“so you won’t send me back?”
“So like, you won’t send me back during the school year”, Vaughn asks tugging on his left ear.
“Oh good……cause I’d hate to leave during the year. That would be bad.”
“No, You’re all set, nothing to worry about” assures the counselor, “why don’t we start to choose your classes?”
“Oh yeah!!!” my son says with genuine excitement.
‘What classes do you like the most?”
“Well, I’m really really good at math and science” he says rocking back and forth in his chair. “I was valedictorian of my 8th grade class”
“Wow, good for you!”
“Yeah, and I finished 2nd in the academic decathlon in math, so yeah……. I’m pretty smart”.
“Wonderful – at Ponaganset, we have academic tracks geared to students who are strong in math and science, our STEM tracks.”
“Science, Technology, Engineering, Math”
Oh good, I like all of those. I’m taking Algebra 1 this year”.
“Excellent! Would you be ready to take Algebra 2 here?”
“oh yeah! Like i said, I’m really really good at math. We just did the Pythagorean theorem. ”
“In that case, would you want to take our engineering track? You are allowed to take our pre-engineering class in 9th grade.”
“I think that’s a great idea Vaughn” I say turning to him. “Connor is going to take pre-engineering too. It’d be nice to see a familiar face in the class”
“If you want, you can take biomedical science as well – that’s in the track as well”
“Whoa!” Vaughn and I chorus together.
“See Vaughn?”, I smile at the counselor as I say this, “see how great Ponaganset is? You would never have that Scituate.”
“Yeahhhhh, I guess”.
We finish registering for the other freshman classes – pretty standard for a 9th grader - English, Spanish, U.S. History. Nonetheless, I can feel Vaughn’s energy and excitement. Though he is rocking back and forth in the seat, it is done with excitement, not anxiety. He is genuinely amped.
“I think we’re all set. I’ll see you in September!”
Vaughn stands up abruptly, grabs his left ear, and proclaims- “Thank you. I am really really really excited to come here and look forward to seeing you in September.”
“well, you are just delightful.”
As Vaughn and I exit the school and make our way back to the car, he is half bouncing, half skipping. Although the whole registration went much better than anticipated, my mind starts its inevitable catastrophizing as we walk down the locker-strewn hallway. Maybe it's psychological transference, but I flashback to my own high school experience --- all the things that could go wrong for him - gym class – oh god does he have to take gym class? Oh my God, do they still have, dodgeball? I flashback to all the dodge balls that got me in the face. How about all these hallways, all the lockers, lunch in the cafeteria – oh man how will he be able to navigate a high school cafeteria? What about other stuff? , homecoming games, freshman fences, driving – now my anxiety spiking. I don’t want him to ever grow up, I want him to just be a Dorian Gray - stay my boy forever. I will bulldoze any high school obstacle in his way.
In the parking lot, we make our way back to the car. As we shut the doors, Vaughn exclaims.
“Daddy, I am really really excited”.
“Oh good good, I am so happy to hear that.”
“Thanks for bringing me.”
“I’m so glad you wanted it to be me. I am honored – truly.”
“I love you. I love you for bringing me.”
I pause. “thank you, that’s really nice. What a super nice thing to say to me.”
As I shift into drive, I take it all in, all of it. I must embrace this new moment - bless the past, bless his experience at Father Doyle and all its technicolor nostalgia, but this is inevitable- this big step, and I will embrace it. every new fear, every new anxiety, new joy, the new rite of passage. This………… is what I signed up for. Driving down Ponaganset Ave, all the skeletal oaks seem to be bending forward, tipping their sword-like branches over us, like some sort of ritual, like some sort of rite of passage.