Recently, someone asked me as the mom of a senior about to graduate, “How are you preparing to let go?” I couldn’t help but laugh at the question. Her son is a few years behind mine, and I hated to burst her bubble. I sighed and shared that much of the time he already feels gone.
My homebody son who rarely ventures out is now almost never home. I took him on a half dozen college tours, but I was most eager to take him to my own alma mater. He showed zero interest in my home campus and chose another. The places and things that were so formative for me were not the places for my son, and I have started to realize that not only is that okay, but it is very likely for the best.
My son is funnier, smarter, and a much better parallel parker than I was at 17 (and at 44). He is figuring out who he is and who his people are, and these teens have a lot more questions to answer about identity than I ever did. Unlike his momma, he seems less thrown by figuring it out. He seems comfortable in uncertainty and maybe that is because he is certain of the things that matter most.
What I’m not always certain of, is where he is or what time he will be home. There are rules and curfews of course, but I also have to balance some of them with the fact that he will have to make some of his own decisions in a few months. I’d like him to practice with a safety net of knowing there is a parent at home. We are giving him longer reigns but also waiting up. We do not let our kids go suddenly when they go off to college or a career, they leave us in little pieces long before that, with each decision they make about who it is they want to be.
We are ending and beginning simultaneously. I’m ordering graduation invitations one minute and paying college dorm deposits the next. I told my friend that school events and Senior Sunday posts on Instagram are leading us to letting go whether we are paying attention or not.
Senior pictures started in August. My son donned a graduation robe and cap even before the first day of senior year. There are senior nights for each sporting event. Senior homecoming mums, senior breakfasts, senior sunrises, and senior sunsets. Most come with a hefty price tag that can temper the sentiment. I’d say it is too much hoopla, except I’m grateful for the acknowledgment.
When our kids are young all the firsts are marked. First words, first teeth, first dates. Senior year is an entire year of marking the lasts. Last first day. Last pep rally. Last semester. What I could have used was someone marking all the little lasts along the way.
Children and teens parse themselves off in small pieces. Suddenly, one night they no longer crawl into your bed when they have a bad dream. Quietly, the “a” is dropped from momma and suddenly you are just a plain mom. One day they won’t need you to take them to the dentist, only to pay. And even that eventually will pass. I have to forever remind myself that independence is the goal and the gift.
I go back to my friend’s question on how I’m preparing to let go and I tell her this: My son has been preparing me for over a decade. I won’t be ready, but I’m making sure he will be. That letting go is something to mourn and celebrate at the same time. No one tells you that the firsts are photographed and celebrated, but what you long for is for someone to warn you about all the in-between lasts. Senior year at least has the audacity to remind us of each last. It makes sure we hold on to each one.