And Just Like That, It’s Over

Published in The Ferndale Record, June 8, 2011

It’s interesting how the big build-up to something is usually more painful than the actual “something.”  Except maybe childbirth.

I’ve known for eighteen years that this particular month was coming and now that it’s here, I notice something I didn’t expect—it’s not so bad. Yet.

My youngest child graduates from high school in a couple of weeks. There’s still a lot for him to accomplish before he turns eighteen years old at the end of June and tensions are at their peak. I’ll be grateful if we simply make it through up-coming days without a major incident—like circling each other in a bloody death match.

I figure my job is to straddle that precarious line between me jumping in to wrap up everything he needs to get done and pretending I don’t care. Mostly I stand back and offer support.

He’s so ready for the next phase of his life. Any parent that’s lived under the same roof with a graduating high school senior knows the feeling.

On the way to a drop off for a two-day trip with his senior class, I told him I knew how much he’d miss me and be homesick, but to stay strong and try to enjoy himself anyway. He barely cracked a smile and when we pulled up to the waiting vans he almost bailed out before I stopped the car.

I didn’t take it personally.

The boy takes classes at Whatcom Community College and has a bunch of other responsibilities and friends that keep him occupied. Lately I’ve realized that after work, there’s no one waiting at home wondering where I am.

At first, I was a little sad about this. Then, out of nowhere, I loved it. I keep thinking I’m the one who’s eighteen and I’ve just moved out of my parent’s house. I make dinner when I want it, or not at all. I come home when I’m ready. And no one is tapping toes and looking at the clock in anticipation. I decided that if I were really in trouble, someone would care. I know people.

And letting go of the boy? Someone told me once that teenagers are supposed to be annoying, defiant, and obnoxious so that when the time comes for them to leave home it won’t be hard for parents to say goodbye.

I know the drill. I know about individuation and defying authority. But this is the absolute truth: No matter how difficult those times have been, I’ve never felt like celebrating when a child left home. I’ve been lucky, I guess.

What’s different this time is me. Before, there was always another child waiting in the wings, needing me like young children need responsible adults. There were school supplies to buy, lunches to make, dirty clothes to wash, and booboos to kiss.

Not this time. And oddly enough, I’m OK with that.

Of course, being a parent is never officially “over.” But those first eighteen years are—often in what seems like a moment. The day he was born doesn’t feel like that long ago.

This time it’s not just me giving birth to a new life—it’s both of us.