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To My Firstborn,

Next week we will take a short drive. I will start the car and wait for you to gather your things, adjust your headphones, and grab a water bottle or granola bar. We’ll make our way through our neighborhood, past a busy road, then an even busier road, and onto the winding, tree-lined streets that lead to your new school. We’ve done this before. I’ve driven you to kindergarten for the first time. I took you to middle school on your first day. But this time feels different. This time it feels as if something has changed.

You are ready. I am not. You are strong, confident, smiling, and independent. I am proud, nervous, anxious, and there are butterflies fluttering their wings inside my stomach. We’ll enter this brand new high school, hand in your paperwork, pick up your schedule. I’ll fix your hair, and straighten your collar before you stand in line to get your first high school picture taken.

You are so tall, long legs, muscles starting to form real biceps on your arms, shoulders broad, a few stray whiskers on your upper lip that you missed while shaving that morning. Your smile is real, your photograph is snapped, and there it is… you’re in high school. There’s no turning back now.

My son, my first true and real unselfish love, has grown into a young man who is preparing himself to take on the world. At this point, grades matter. Your character matters. Extracurricular activities matter. Just saying “No” matters. Choices will be made- good ones and bad. Friends will be made, and some will be lost. New teachers will be spending hours with you, teaching you things you’ve never known before.

You’ll start liking girls, I mean, really liking them. Some will like you back, and some will break your sweet, gentle heart. Some will want more than you want, and some might want less. You’ll need to follow your heart and your head. You must be patient and kind, respectful and true. Remember all the goals you’ve set for yourself and trust your intuition. You know the difference between right and wrong, so when you are faced with a situation, and you feel you’re not ready, or that she’s not ready, you must learn how to stop, take a deep breath, and do the right thing. It’s so important. You’re future is in your hands now, and all the choices, right or wrong, will have to be made by you.

There are people who will really like you. There will be some who don’t. Sometimes you’ll feel that no matter what you do, how hard you try, or how good you are, those who don’t like you will never come around. That doesn’t matter. What matters is that you like yourself. When you think about the negative people, the ones who give you a hard time, remember the others. Remember the people who love you, because those are the people to keep close. Those are the people who will be there for you no matter what. All the others will fade away, and those who are true to you will remain. In the end, you’ll realize how many people you will always have in your corner and you’ll know how truly blessed you are.

And on that very first day of school, as I watch you gather your books, your backpack, your new pens and pencils, I will be thinking about you as a small child. I’ll be thinking about the first time I drove you to school and left you in a classroom of strangers, a teacher I didn’t yet know, a large school with hundreds of children all from different families, coming together in one place to learn and grow. I’ll be thinking about the drive home after I left you there and how hard I had gripped the steering wheel, as hot, wet, gigantic tears streamed down my cheeks. Those tears weren’t all tears of sadness. Some of them, as they fell, were full of joy and pride, as I went over in my mind how brave you were that first day, in your new school, entering your new kindergarten classroom, so eager to learn and make new friends.

And now, as I prepare myself for the drive and the dropping off of you for your freshman year in high school, my whole heart swells up so large inside my chest that I feel as if I might burst. I’m so proud of you, my son. I would love to take all the credit for the intelligent, amazing, smart, hard-working, kind young man you have become, but I cannot. You are a combination of all the people who love you, all the teachers who have taught you, all the friends you have made, all the coaches who’ve instructed you, even all the people who have wronged you.

You are brave and real, solid and strong. You still let me hug you, and you put up with me kissing your cheek whenever I get a chance. You are confident without being cocky, your sense of humor is delightful, and it still amazes me how quickly you can eat an entire cheeseburger in just a few seconds when you are really hungry.

I love you more than you’ll ever know. Dropping you off at your new high school and letting you into that world of new and unknown challenges is harder for me than you can imagine. As much as I want to hide you away sometimes, and keep you locked inside this little, protected world of ours, I know you are better off if I let you go. You must exit my vehicle next week, and enter that building on your own, as your own person, with your own set of morals and values, your own likes and dislikes, and your own way of learning and navigating the unfamiliar territory. You’ll find your way on your own, without me to hold your hand and guide you.

As you leave my car, walk up the sidewalk to your new high school, and open the front door, remember to look back just one more time. When you do, you’ll see me, tears in my eyes, joy in my heart, pride in my soul, watching you making your way into one of the most challenging, exciting, and meaningful times that will be the next four years of your life. Know that I’m there, and know that you can count on me to listen when you need advice, a friendly ear, and especially, a warm hug.

You are my son, my baby, my firstborn, my life. I know you will succeed, and I’ll be right there behind you cheering you on all the way.

Good luck, my boy. There’s nothing you can’t do if you work hard enough. I love you.

Tammi Landry-Gilder

Tammi is an author, wife, mother and blogger who lives in West Bloomfield, Michigan, with her husband, two sons, three dogs, and too many fish in a tank to count.

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