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By Shelley Murphy
In the game of life, the parenthood playing field is pebbled with milestones. Two of the most marked include welcoming our children home when they first arrive as newborns and waving goodbye when they leave as young adults.
Eighteen years ago I anxiously awaited my son’s birth; and today I’m equally nervous counting down the dreaded days until he packs his bags and moves into his college dorm.
My son’s last day of high school looms large, and I find myself flashing back to his first day of preschool when his tiny fingers tightly gripped my leg and he refused to walk into his classroom.
Tomorrow my same son picks up his diploma and takes a giant step toward his collegiate future and impending adulthood.
Graduating seniors savor the month of June and its commemorative parties, presents and pageantry. I usually look forward to June’s celebrations with enthusiasm and excitement but this year’s graduation has me facing familiar angst and apprehension.
I remember what it’s like sitting in the stands watching my child graduate from high school.
In 2012, to ensure I’d see my older son cross the stage, I bribed my younger son and his friend to arrive early and save seats.
But this time my husband volunteered to sit for hours on the back-breaking bleachers to save our family’s spot. His sweet gesture surprised me, until I realized he’d weighed his options and chose to trade his first row seat aboard my emotional rollercoaster for the solace of the stadium.
I recall three years ago walking into Thalassa Stadium greeting people in passing and hearing, “Congratulations!” and “Isn’t this exciting!” I nodded in agreement at each exclamation and thought to myself, “Am I the only one fighting back tears?”
Somehow I kept the catch in my voice at bay and reluctantly agreed to feeling thrilled about watching our kids’ transition into adulthood.
Tomorrow I’ll repeat the same drill to see my younger son graduate from high school. Entering the stadium I’ll be directed to the bleachers where I’ll watch my son from a distance as a spectator—a symbolic seating arrangement representing our soon to be separate zip codes.
When the ceremony starts I’ll hear the commencement speeches, but I won’t really be listening. Instead, I’ll be silently thanking the oversized sunglasses and waterproof mascara gods.
By the time the orchestra plays “Pomp and Circumstance” I’ll be battling overpowering melancholy. But, like three years ago, overwhelming pride will prevail as I watch my son accept the diploma he’s worked steadfastly to earn.
At some point during the graduation ceremony our family dynamic will change. I’ll transition from a pivotal player in our starting line-up to a bench warmer on the sidelines. Demoted to the bench from my powerful position amidst the action means I’ll no longer call the shots.
My banishment to the bench also keeps me from getting glimpses into my son’s future collegiate life; I won’t know most of his friends, his activities or his habits. Instead, I’ll sit on the sidelines wondering about his daily routines, waiting for texts and calls.
After tomorrow my life, and my son’s, will forever change.
The impact of graduation will hit my son straightaway setting him solidly on a path of independence and race to adulthood.
The aftermath of the ceremony will gradually affect me and I won’t feel the full consequence of the hollow void left behind until the fall.
Once summer ends and a new school year starts the emptiness of our nest will be palpable.
Gone will be our chaotic September mornings. I’ll miss my son and hearing him shout, “Mom, I’m late, help me find my keys!” as he rushes out the door for zero period.
In September my sunrises will be silent. I’ll walk past my son’s empty bedroom wondering if he found his keys and made it to class on time.
Alone in the quiet, the gravity will strike—this milestone is not a small pebble but a heartbreaking boulder.