STAR Tannery, Virginia - This week, like millions of other mothers in the U.S., I will watch my last child graduate from high school.
His brother's graduation was filled with the excitement of the newness of watching our first born become an adult and moving on with his life. But there is a bitter-sweet finality that creeps in when it's your last child moving that tassel to the other side of the mortar board.
For Joe this past school year has been a happy mixture of beginnings and endings. He turned 18 a month ago - meaning, in our house, the ending of curfews (my husband and I made this decision based on the fact that neither of our sons ever exhibited behavior that led us to believe they couldn't handle this extended bit of trust and, so far and thank God, we've not been disappointed). He celebrated this by staying out at a friend's house until midnight to finish up a movie - an hour past his usual weekend curfew. Yeah. He's a rebel.
His band recital, academic achievement ceremony, baccalaureate service, honors service, sports achievement ceremony - we've attended all of them together for the last time, all of it leading up to Friday's graduation ceremony, which seems to be for Joe, a relief.
For me, though, this past school year has been quite different. It's been a year of gradually loosening the apron strings; of letting him start flexing those independent muscles. There will be no one to nag him to do homework at college; no one to tell him to get to bed or he's going to be exhausted in the morning; no one to order him to stay home in bed when he's not feeling well. For me, this has been a year of biting my tongue and letting the chips fall where they may.
Joe and I have discussed how difficult that first semester of college can be, coping with home sickness, learning to live with total strangers and attend classes where the instructors are ambivalent to your success. I'm hoping I make such misery sound so extreme that when he does feel that loneliness it won't be half as bad as I said it would be.
I tell him all that and, meanwhile, the mother in me wants to tell him that when the loneliness hits, he needs to come home and he will feel better. For me this past school year has been a time of conflicting emotions.
So when he worries, "What if I get a real jerk as a roommate," I say nonchalantly, "Oh, you'll work it out. You'll learn to get along with all kinds of people." But what I want to say is, "You come home and for the rest of the year commute the 2-1/2 hours to Roanoke;" or, better yet, "Give up that full academic scholarship, come home and attend the community college down the road."
Our mother/son dynamics have already begun to change. I feel myself shifting to the sidelines of his life and know that is as it should be. But that doesn't prevent the Italian Mama in me from having the urge to pull an all-out coup for his attention and consideration. I come from a long line of talented and tenacious manipulators and, should I wish, could tangle him in a web of guilt and insecurity, the strands of which would reach from here to Roanoke College. But I want a son who can stand on his own two feet, not a marionette dancing to my tune.
And that, I suppose, is the hardest aspect in all this: he is a project accompli, so to speak. Oh, I'll be called in for random maintenance now and then. But for the most part, my opinions and advice will be one among many and probably not even the most heavily considered. While I've worked at other things while raising my boys, they were always my biggest and most important project. And now I'm done.
So for me this has been a year of asking, "Now what?"
He, of course, can understand none of this. To him I'm just his sappy, sentimental mom who will cry at his graduation, require his appearance at a reception for his family and then quietly retire to the periphery as he takes on the world.
I'm happy to do so. My two projects are rather impressive.
They deserve their own spotlight.
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