(I wrote this last week prior to my son’s graduation.)
I was sitting on the front steps of my parent’s house. My best friend was there as a witness. My first son was teetering on his feet before us, then he wiped out onto the driveway. Grabbing my best friend’s arm before he could instinctively aid the fallen child, I whispered, “Don’t move.” My son looked around, debated whether it was worth the effort to cry, decided it wasn’t, then went back to the business of getting to his feet. Once again he teetered like the planet was spinning a little too fast. He steadied himself, then took one step, and another, and another. Then my son made a joyous noise as he waddled away from us with alarming speed. We huddled there like we were watching a rare animal on the Serengeti.
“He started doing it last night,” I whispered.
My best friend hadn’t had his first child yet. “Amazing,” he breathed.
My son was ten months old. He had just learned to walk.
Fast forward seventeen years. In just a few days my son will take one of life’s other important walks. I doubt his steps will be as hesitant when he accepts his high school diploma and begins a new chapter in his life. And I begin a new one in mine.
(He might fall down though, since he will be wearing actual shoes, something his perpetually bare feet might not understand. He got away with the sandals at his awards ceremony, but he was told the Jesus shoes were a no-go for graduation. We’re praying he doesn’t try to stage some kind of protest.)
I know I am supposed to give him advice at this stage in life. That’s what we do as our children step out into the world, right? And, yet, I am struggling to do so. There are a few things I guess I would offer:
- Home is a state of mind that has nothing to do with bricks and mortar.
- Being imperfect is a good thing. Imperfections are what make you interesting.
- I hope your college introduces you to someone named Al or Lou, a Dan-the-man, a Vinnie, a Ray-baby or a (insert any of 25 names here). Your college friends will entertain you, challenge you, and might even get you arrested. Together you will make memories that will be a big part of the rest of your days, if only in small batches.
- And maybe, just maybe, you might meet the love of your life, even if you don’t know it at first.
But as I write those words I know that advice is more about my life and less about his own. It is time for him to chart his path now. The stakes are much higher than in my time. Things are different. Schools are expensive. Money is tight. And but for his own accomplishments the path he takes right now would not be possible.
So why am I not more nervous for him? Maybe that will come later but I don’t think so. This young man truly seems to be made up of the best parts of the people who created him, and a few more good quantities we can’t claim. He is smart, competitive and bullheadedly stubborn. He is also open-minded, accepting of others, and has a gentle heart. Oh sure, there have been a few moments of eyebrow raising stupidity. (Like maybe he needed to prove that he is my son.) But as he enters college I mainly hope that life’s great unknown storms on the horizon don’t burden his mind too much and that he will enjoy the relatively calm waters of any given day. His days in college, like life itself, will pass in a blur.
I had the opportunity to witness a kindergarten graduation the same week my son will graduate from high school. (If only everyone had to attend a kindergarten graduation once a year and wash off the ugliness of being an adult there would be far less hunger, death and anger in this world.) Seeing both ceremonies in the same week made me think about who my son was as a little boy, and the man he is now. And it reminded me that life never stays the same. It always changes. In my rational mind I know it is time for my son to leave. He is a grown man. He is ready. In my emotional heart I know I will miss the boy beyond words.
I have been watching him find his way for eighteen years now.
So life’s safari continues. And I will continue observing his accomplishments from the bushes while searching for a word that means profoundly happy, impossibly proud and terribly sad all at the same time.
Maybe that word is parenting.