This morning I got up early to make my daughters’ lunches, as usual. Except that it wasn’t as usual. When my oldest came downstairs I said to her “This is the last school lunch I’m ever going to make you.” She shrugged and packed up her bag.
Tomorrow she graduates from high school, and her dad and I have spent the entire year trying to get our heads around that fact. I may forget many things, but I remember so clearly the sunny October day in 1995 when she was born – that was when I became a believer in love at first sight. I remember sitting proudly on a preschool chair on the last day of her kindergarten year as she walked over the Playskool bridge and received her certificate of completion – ready to start elementary school in the fall, my big girl. I remember our trying to teach her to ride a bike – one walking on each side of her, issuing constant encouragement as she wobbled around the block screaming like Lucy Ricardo the entire way.
And then there was the tumble of adolescence and so many firsts toward independence – walking to school, sleeping away from home, flying alone, getting her driver’s license, spending a week or more across the country without phone or email communication, getting a job, applying to college. We learned to trust and to relinquish control. She proved herself trustworthy and responsible.
In exactly 80 days she will move out of our house to attend college in another state.
We encouraged this. Trying something new and fully exerting her independence is exactly what we’d hoped for her, and she’s given us every indication she’s ready. I’m so excited for all that’s ahead of her.
But then I’m driving to work and a song like this one comes on the radio and I can’t contain my tears, because this exhilarating new beginning for her is an ending for us. It’s the end of parenting as we know it.
It seems that as parents we are under the illusion that as long as our children go to bed under our roof they’re safe because we’re taking care of them. We know where they are at just about every moment of the day and that they’ll be returning to the nest at night. We know without their saying a word when they’re angry with their friends or worried about a test or excited for an upcoming dance or under pressure to deliver a physics project. And although our parenting role has evolved over the past years, we are still needed as coach and advocate. We still have so much wisdom to impart! (Or so we believe.)
In addition to the sense of impending loss, I’m feeling a bit of panic. She’s leaving in 80 days and I haven’t taught her everything she needs to know to survive the big bad world! What if I forgot something important? Does she know how to keep herself safe? How to handle a professional failure? How to choose a good man? The mother of that kindergarten child wants to keep her with me a little bit longer. The mother of this 17 year old woman says “those now are the lessons she has to learn on her own.”
I’m also finally fully aware, at 51 years old, of how I abandoned my own parents. I too moved out of state to attend college, never to live at home again, not even during summer break. My phone calls home have become even less frequent over the years and what I’m willing to share more meager, not due to malicious intent but solely as a result of my inability to fully comprehend a parent’s love and interest. If my daughter abandons me in this same way my heart will break.
Such complex feelings having a child on the verge of adulthood and independence inspires. But above all my fear and sadness and regret is unmitigated enthusiasm for her. I know, because I was there once, that the very best of life is ahead of her. She’ll learn and laugh and love. She’ll have her heart broken. She’ll discover how strong and capable and resilient she is.
Tomorrow I’ll sit proudly on a football field in a folding chair, next to my mother and father, my hand tightly clasped in my husband’s, watching our daughter walk across the stage in a red cap and gown. I may shed some tears for myself, but I’ll be smiling hugely for her.