For most of his first year on planet earth, I carried my third child around in a fabric sling that draped across my left shoulder, distributing his weight in a way that made it safe for me to dash across the playground and catch his five-year-old brother dangling from the horizontal bars or his three-year-old sister rocketing down the slide. Often, I faced him forward so he could capture the day in a cinematic way: slow pan left, open the refrigerator; close-up on the dog; dolly zoom to front door; shaky handheld shots of the day’s mail.
The most judgmental of my suburbanite neighbors would wag their heads, remarking snarkily, “Are you ever going to let him walk?
“I don’t know,” I would chirp. “Maybe someday.”
Today, he walks for his diploma at Johns Hopkins University, with a double major in Cognitive Science and Creative Writing—degrees that oddly mirror his earliest infant sensory experiences as an always-fashionable wardrobe accessory.
For some reason, parenting is a job that permits perfect strangers to offer unsolicited and unreliable coaching. With my first child and my second, I let too much of it in, floundering like a job trainee in that storied American family institution “IKB” (I Know Better). You shouldn’t let him eat Cheetos before breakfast. You can’t let her carry that blanket around everywhere. But as my two older children negotiated and survived the inevitable disappointments of childhood—retention at the minnow level of swimming lessons, the awkward parent-teacher conference, year-after-year with no pony under the Christmas tree—they taught me; I grew more confident as a parent.
Therefore, Brian, as you walk, tip your graduation cap to your older sister Laura and older brother Patrick, because they accidentally bestowed on you the gift of a more experienced and calm parent. I take no credit for the man you have become; I’m just grateful that I didn’t impede your natural trajectory.
And because I am fifty-six, I am allowed to begin a sentence with “The problem with our society is…” and know that it is somehow the perfect ending for this essay.
The problem with our society is we think our greatest parental moments are when we stand up for our children. The truth is, our greatest parental moments are when we stand behind them, and let them be who they are.
Congratulations on your graduation. Now go forth and move to Scotland five days after the ceremony, convincingly disproving those buttinsky predictions that by holding you close, I could never let you go.
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