Graduation is tomorrow, and my heart is in my throat. I am told by friends with older children that college graduation is much easier on parents than high school. Goodbyes have already been said. But we have not said goodbye, and as I sit here writing, I am working hard to keep it together – not cry and say “don’t go!” Emily is so ready. She needs to go. But what it means for us, for me, is something that looks much less like a beginning, and more like an end, at least to this stage of our family’s life.
I know that, rain or shine, the girls will be beautiful in their dresses, carrying flowers, and marching to traditional tunes. Speakers will extol the successes of their years together, with due focus on great academic, athletic, and artistic achievements. Friendships will be mentioned, and honor will be paid to parents, extended families, teachers and friends who have supported, encouraged, and made possible everything that they have done. We will celebrate, as a community, futures so bright.
But what about me? Stevie Nicks and the Dixie Chicks say it best: “I’ve been afraid of changin’, ’cause I’ve built my life around you. But time makes you bolder, children get older. I’m getting older, too.” For two decades, we have put Emily’s needs first, made what is important to her important to us. We have sacrificed, happily, to make her journey smooth, rich, and good. So now, as her days with us are numbered (literally, by a count-down on her closet door), how do we turn the dial, shift the focus? These are confusing times, for all involved.
With all this young adulthood staring us in the face, we are challenged with the need for new guidelines. What will summer curfew be? Can she go to New York for the day with her boyfriend? Does she have to let us know who is staying at her place for beach week? Seriously?! We are letting her GO to beach week! I thought that was a generous concession. But this is a time of great change, and the rules are not so clear.
As we strolled through the grocery store this afternoon picking up all of her favorite things for the family graduation luncheon, I asked her, “Are you ever going to come back?” Thinking this was an easy one, a way for her to give me a metaphorical pat on the back as the sentimental mother lamenting her daughter’s departure, I was expecting her to say, “Of course!” And we’d both feel better. Instead, she said, “That depends. What will curfew be when I’m home from college?”
So there it is, folks. At the end of the day, the horse trader in us all is revealed, and we all need to know what tomorrow brings for ourselves. For me, tomorrow will bring moments of tremendous pride, joy, love, and the bittersweet taste of goodbyes to come. For Emily, tomorrow marks the end of a wonderful high school career, where she learned things about herself she didn’t know she didn’t know. I will comfort myself with the hope that as she grows, she will still need us. And she will bask in the freedom that these next few months will bring. Tomorrow, together, we will change.