ESCANABA - It began 13 years ago with a nervous backward glance at us as the school bus doors swallowed him for the first of a thousand times.
It ended last Wednesday with Sam skidding to a halt in the driveway in his new old car, running inside to grab a Frisbee then taking off again, not to be seen again until late that night.
The last day of school.
The songs all say time flies. That's a ridiculous understatement. As I watched him roar off, I thought: How in the world am I old enough to have a kid who is no longer in the public schools when I'm only, uh, 25 myself?
I am, aren't I? And yet wait a second, where did all these gray hairs come from? And why does my back ache after it rains? And how come I care so much about my fiber intake, 401k reports and how the stock market is doing?
And little Sam, my God, he can't be old enough to graduate from high school. He's just a boy, my little Slam-a-lam, my tag-along-to-the-hardware-store buddy who loves stegosauruses and plays Pokmon cards. He can't be 18 and all grown up.
And yet, against all odds, he is. He's blossomed into a tall, strong, smart, kind, funny, goofy adult with a big, fat, exciting future ahead of him.
Soon he'll be in college, then grad school, then he'll begin a glorious career that will result in him buying his old man a condo in Hawaii. He'll meet a special girl somewhere along the line, of course. And eventually - since he has a soft heart and no common sense, just like his dad - there will be kids, too.
Which means in the not too distant future I'll be a grandfather.
Part of me dreads all of this happening - mostly because when he leaves for college in a few months I'll miss him like crazy. I've already threatened to move into his dorm with him. He laughs and says, "Yeah, right." Part of him worries that I'm just crazy enough to do it, though. I don't assure him that I'm not. It's always good to keep them guessing.
Part of me is excited beyond belief for him, too, of course. Graduating high school is life's first big milestone. It all begins here, although I've noticed Sam doesn't seem to share that view.
"Excited, bud?" I asked him at the start of his last day.
"Meh," he said.
I knew that's what he'd say. Blas is his official mood. "Meh," in case it's been awhile since you raised a teen, is today's version of "Whatever." It's a one-size-fits-all response to just about anything. I've learned to tolerate it, but I do hope he outgrows it at some point.
Boss: "Sam, are those quarterly reports finished?"
Preacher: "Sam, do you take this woman to be your lawfully wedded wife?"
Supreme Court Justice: "Will you faithfully uphold the offices of the president of the United States?"
I know how to cure him of it, though.
Me: "Sam, it won't bother you if I really do move into the dorm with you, will it?"
Bet he doesn't say "meh" to that, eh?
EDITOR'S NOTE - Andy Heller, an award-winning columnist for The Flint Journal, appears weekly in the Daily Press. He graduated from Escanaba Area High School in 1979. For more of his work, visit his blog at blog.mlive.com/flintjournal/aheller. You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.