My eldest son is a high school senior. Graduation looms. And I’m not ready to give him up. I’ve even gone through this before and it’s no easier. The origin of this fierce attachment begins in 2003 before he was born because he is the baby who saved me. My dad died in February 2003. Following the memorial service I felt overwhelmed, dizzy, almost ill. The next day I found out I was not ill but pregnant. So while I was prepared, energized to dive into the misery of loss, to win an award for wallowing, this baby wouldn’t let me. Children are the ultimate distraction from our own problems. This tiny boy gave me such hope, when I had none. He gave me purpose and focus and forced me to take care of myself and be grateful for small miracles.
With love comes sacrifice. This boy was nine pounds and 22 inches long and my first sacrifice was my abs. If you look at him today next to me…it doesn’t seem medically possible I birthed him, but I am indeed his mother. His middle name is Dean, after my dad. It’s a connection never lost on me; his life beginning as my dad’s was ending. They crossed over for a few weeks on earth but neither of them knew it-or maybe they did.
My son was a serious, cautious baby. Maybe because I was serious and cautious mother. He was allergic to everything. He insisted on being carried. I wore him like a luxury handbag for years. When he was four, I went to the doctor when my neck had seized up and the doctor told me I needed to put my giant boy down. But I did not listen. I’d do anything to protect him from discomfort. From sadness. From people trying to feed him peanut butter. From the world.
As a young boy, he was reserved but had a silly side with trusted family and friends. He was smart, curious and blissful companion to bring to a movie, a concert, a restaurant. He had old soul insight and was measured and logical. He wanted to know why Caillou was still bald at four. Why was Caillou’s cat named after an old man and his sister after a flower but his best friend was named after a fruit? I loved seeing his bright mind at work. But I had to watch quite a bit of Caillou. Sacrifice.
As a middle schooler he was fun. Funny, sharp witted and testing boundaries with friends, teachers, parents. He was growing up. He performed a rap for an eighth grade science project. I was skeptical but he found it hilarious and being hilarious in middle school is more important than grades evidently. He relished being contrarian. If he was told to zig, he zagged with enthusiasm. A teacher told me at conferences my son needed to choose soon if he was becoming a smart kid or a cool kid. I anxiously awaited what he would choose as well.
High school. I thought at several different points high school would break me. It seemed I couldn’t protect him from himself. Freshman year was tumultuous. He tried on personalities for size. He balked at our rules. He balked at rules. Sophomore year was also challenging and then the pandemic hit and the rest of high school is now one for the history books to debate “what could have been”. Junior year, the watershed year for many students just never happened. Time went floppy. There were no milestones, traditions, markers of time passing. The wheels not only fell off the bus, there was no bus service. Standardized tests were taken but now scores were meaningless. My boy spent over a year doing school in our dark basement through a tiny screen wearing a beanie but no shirt. He learned Biology through a 4 inch portal. He was isolated from friends, teachers, experiences (like everyone in the world) but during adolescence. Formative years. Practice years. Did he ever get to decide what kind of high schooler he would be? These pandemic students will probably be studied for decades. Where did they flourish? Where did they flounder? What does adolescent development look like devoid of human interaction other than watching Tik Tok?
In many ways his growth stagnated. There are many things he simply doesn’t know and his peers don’t know them either. They had so little normal during pivotal years. They missed many typical growing up experiences. Small things and large things. Practicing relationships with peers, working a part time job, changing jobs, pursuing interests to hone who they are and who they want to become. They had far fewer chances to experience sporting events, dances, casual hang outs, overcoming minor setbacks, date, problem solve, endure a break up, making a new friend, walk away from a bad friend. Most experiences unavailable or under very odd circumstances. And there was nothing I could do to improve any of it other than buy his favorite chips.
On paper, my boy is now a man. It feels like he jumped from freshman to senior. He applied to college last September because I hear his mother manages stress through advanced planning. He went on college tours. He chose his school. It’s not what I would choose but when we toured I had a window into what his vision is for himself. I’ve had to remind myself repeatedly it’s not my job to convince him of my dreams for him but to spend my energy supporting his pursuits.
We went on one of those spring break trips you see on social media where you think-Who are these parents and what is wrong with them? It’s me. I’m about the least likely mom to go on a trip of that magnitude. I’ve uttered, “I would NEVER EVER do that” more than a few times. Traveling with 70 of our not closest friends is not my idea of fun. But it’s something he desperately wanted and he has wanted so little. There has been much less to want or hope for when you have no idea what is around the bend-and your parents certainly don’t know either. I’m beyond grateful to have shared the week with him. Even the 25 minutes he forced me to watch Rick and Morty.
I couldn’t protect him from pandemic fallout during high school. High school happens once and none of us can get time back. All I could do was come alongside him and ride out the storm. It’s been a funny thing having adult children. They need you but you do also need them. Being in the weeds together is the very definition of family.
I’ve been clambering out of work on evenings my son has track meets. Driving 45 minutes away to see him run. His event is the 400 or the 4X4 relay and now oddly the 300m hurdles. If things go well, he is around in less than a minute. This is the upside of the Covid years-a deep gratitude for a mere minute witnessing the ordinary.
It seems he is owed two more normal years at home. To catch up. Or maybe to rest. Maybe I feel like someone owes me two more. But he’s leaving and he’s going to give it his best shot. One of his superpowers is never turning in homework but still doing well in class. One of my superpowers is worrying about it even though it changes nothing. He assures me he “won’t be that guy” in college. He will be someone else because he chose this and he wants it-vastly different than high school. It hurts to even think I don’t have a front row seat to witness it. The truth is I’d probably never be ready to see him go because for me he will always be the baby who saved me.
And soon I have to book airline tickets for move in weekend. It occurred to me that his is a one way. A one way ticket to next steps and a roundtrip for me to adjust to being without him. Sacrifice. I can’t wait to see where he will land because I’ll bet anything this will all have been worth it.