We never planned to follow her that day. We stood with her at the bus stop, made sure she had the name tag around her neck given to her at kindergarten orientation, and watched as she carefully crossed the street to get on the school bus.
We wiped away tears, and then it hit us: We could follow the bus to the school. She’d never know.
It’s not as if she had never been away from home. She was in daycare at a young age — with her grandmother and her older cousin — and then preschool. But this was different. It was school, and we didn’t get to personally hand her off to someone trusted.
So, we followed the bus.
When we got to her elementary school, we parked away from the entrance, hid behind a column near the school’s entrance, and watched her get off the bus. I call it the covert operation of comfort.
She emerged from the bus with her signature smile — wide, bright, and dimples piercing her cheeks. Then she marched up to a teacher’s aide, showed her badge, and was pointed in the direction of her teacher. It was clear she could advocate for herself. She was safe and happy, which is all any parent really wants to know.
We cried a few more tears, hugged, and realized our girl was going to be OK.
Fast-forward 13 years, and we are about to watch her graduate from high school. If ever a person got everything she possibly could out of a public school education, it would be our daughter Josephine. She made it look easy, but we know how hard she worked to excel at academics, and to embrace the arts. And, we know, she was a strong advocate for her own education from that first day to her last.
In the middle of her senior year of high school, we were given homework by her English teacher. It was to write a letter of advice. Here’s what I wrote:
I know. I know. You like to be called JoJo. But to me you are Josephine Rose, the girl whose wide smile, quick wit, caring, and compassion helps to complete our home. It pains me sometimes to think you’re headed off to college, but the alternative is no good. We’ve been preparing for this moment for 18 years, and you have embraced your role by working hard and opening doors of opportunity. An incredible journey awaits.
My advice to you on that journey is to keep working hard, but to also understand that work is not everything. They say if you work at something you love, you never work a day in your life. That’s not true. It’s still work. But it is work that helps you appreciate your time with friends and family. (And let’s be honest, it helps pay for those times, as well.) In those times with friends and family, sing loudly, dance often, and enjoy yourself.
You will make mistakes, it’s inevitable. It’s how you deal with those mistakes that matters. Be humble. Forgive easily. Hold no grudges. Continue to be kind and compassionate. Make friends, but don’t let selfish people take up space in your life.
Travel. Do it now. Go. See. Explore. It will get harder as you begin to work, when you have a family. So take the time now to see the world. But don’t be afraid to settle down, to love. When you do have a family — and I hope you do — share your experiences with them, give them experiences of their own. Sing. Dance. Laugh.
I’ve saved my most important advice for last. Call your mother. No, really, call her. She carried you for nine months. She doted on you as a newborn. She sang to you endlessly. She kissed your boo-boos. She snuggled you. She made sure you were well-fed and clothed. She became your protective Mama Bear when needed. So take a minute or two and call her. Let her know she is loved and appreciated, because she has lived every day of the past 18 years making sure you feel loved and protected. (Make sure she passes the phone to me, too.) Always, always know you can come home for a hug, a good meal, and, yes, to do laundry.
Your adventure awaits, and I can’t wait to see where you’re headed. Buckle up and enjoy the ride.
Congratulations to my daughter and all of those in the class of 2017. Don’t worry too much about the destination, it’s the journey that matters most.
Oh, and JoJo, pay no attention to the people hiding behind the columns on your first day at Northeastern. Just kidding. Maybe.