For The First Time Since My Daughter Graduated, I Feel Left Out

I come to the four-way stop and see the sign. It’s one I’m familiar with, because it’s a similar sign to the ones I’ve stuck in the ground at this same corner for years. The sign is advertising the high school’s fall musical, a show that both of my now graduated, grown and flown daughters performed in every year and something that completely consumed our lives the first few months of school.

high school play
I miss the days when my daughter was in the high school play.

I saw the high school fall musical being advertised and feel left out.

I sit stopped at the corner for longer than necessary, my thoughts swirling with the memories of late night tech rehearsals, Throat Coat tea and Emergen-C packs, complicated hairstyles I had to learn to master, Jimmy John’s sandwiches for dinner every night, and the nervous anticipation and flurry of excitement as the performance weekends approached. The sight of the sign catches me off guard. Because while I’ve certainly felt melancholy off and on since my daughter graduated in May, this is the first time I feel left out.

I think about the kids I know who are in the show this year, and wonder how they’re holding up, if they’re staying healthy. I wonder how rehearsals are going. Are they off book yet? Is the set finished? (The set is never finished.) Have they started rehearsing with the student pit orchestra yet — or wait, that comes closer to opening, doesn’t it? Suddenly I don’t remember. I hate that I don’t remember. I wonder if tickets have gone on sale, something in previous years I always knew because I was the one in charge of sending the email notifying everyone of the on sale date.

I make a mental note to check when I get home. I want to be sure to get my favorite seats, the ones we’ve sat in for every performance for the past eight years, the ones on the left aisle of row G, not too close to the stage and a bit off center so you can see the action at a slight angle and not have to worry about someone’s head blocking your view. They’re probably gone by now, I think to myself sadly, wondering who already grabbed them; where else we should sit.

I study the sign. I like the colors they chose; the font is appealing, eye-catching. It was always a struggle to get the sign just right. I wonder which of my friends who are still on the Booster board designed it. For the first time, I’m aware of the number of meetings that have taken place without me. I can picture my friends sitting around the large table, bowls of Costco chocolates in the center, plastic cups of wine being passed out, discussing the volunteer needs and cast dinner selections.

Did they ever find a new photographer to take the rehearsal photos? Who agreed to take over the tasks I’d been in charge of for the past four years? Did she send out the sign up genius in time? (It should have been sent out yesterday, I realize, mentally counting ahead to opening night.) Did she remember to emphasize the matinees? It’s always so hard to find help for the matinees. I look at the sign again and wonder which of my friends stuck it there. Perhaps it was someone new, someone I don’t even know.

Which night should we attend the show, I wonder as I drive away. In the past we’ve always gone to every performance (you’d go to every soccer or football game if your child was on the team, wouldn’t you?) and it feels weird to have to think and plan like a regular audience member. Will our old friends who have kids in the show be too busy to talk to us at intermission? Will my husband and I stand awkwardly removed from the flurry of congratulatory hugs and acclamations, remembering what it was like to be in the center of it? Will I recognize the parent volunteers at the concession stand when I buy my bottle of water and small package of Swedish Fish? I hope they’ll still sell Swedish Fish.

I return home to a quiet house and log onto the school’s theater website to buy tickets. The first photo that pops up on the banner is of my daughter as Mary Poppins two years ago. I pause the slideshow and stare at it. The memories of that show are as fresh in my mind as if it happened yesterday, yet at the same time seem a lifetime ago.

It’s staggering to think of all the things that have happened in the past two years, all the milestones that have passed and the number of ways in which we’ve all moved on. But there she is, frozen in time on that stage, the same stage where right now many of her old friends are deep in rehearsal and where many of my old friends are running Jimmy John’s in to their kids. I wonder how long it will be until they take that picture down and the images and memories of my daughter are replaced.

I pull up the seating chart, doubtful I’ll be in luck. But when the map appears I see that although most of the main floor is already taken there are two open seats on the left aisle of row G, as if they were being saved just for me.

Other posts you will enjoy:

Senior Year of High School: Wishing for a Little More Time 

21 Things You’ll Love about Your Empty Nest 


About Michelle Newman

Michelle Newman is one of the hosts and producers of The Pop Culture Preservation Society, a podcast dedicated to preserving the pop culture nuggets of our GenX childhoods, from Barry Manilow and the Bee Gees to Battle of The Network Stars. She’s spent the past nine years writing for publications like Grown & Flown, Entertainment Weekly, and The Girlfriend, as well as for her (now silent) blog, You’re My Favorite Today. A recent empty nester, Michelle finds immense joy connecting with others through the memories of their 70s childhoods. Follow the Pop Culture Preservation Society on Instagram and listen wherever you get podcasts!

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