So I watched the boy cross the stage, shake the principal’s hand and secure the diploma. It was done. In a sense, many things were done. My eyes froze on my kid and tears welled. I looked over at his mother and she glanced at me, tight lipped and sniffing. We’d gotten him over the bridge. Granted, there were 375 other sets of parents who had just accomplished the same thing, but we felt special. I could see she was thinking the same thing. Maybe not the same thing, but the same way. All the days that got us to this day.
His years of asthma and the pie-eyed trusting innocence on his face while he lay beneath oxygen tents in the emergency room at the hospital. His intolerance of dairy products and the panic we experienced when he had allergic reactions each time we neglected to inspect everything he ate. His absolute fascination and addiction to dinosaurs and the zoo and his euphoria when they had life sized replicas of dinosaurs AT the zoo! How his sense of humor and sarcasm developed so early and how he had developed comedic timing before kindergarten. Sam was always happy and always laughing; laughing hard, his eyes would fill with tears.
And he caught on quick. He was bright. I remember the day he found two facts out of two books that were contradicting each other, something about a dinosaur and his hunting/eating habits. He cross-referenced the two paragraphs and brought them both to me explaining one said this and one said that. He handed me the books for proof and felt there was a real injustice done there and he made a real fuss. He was 7 years old.
And we drew pictures; reams and reams of the clean side of used computer paper. I’d fetch it out of my recycle box every Friday. He loved to draw combinations of animals; half eagle/half snake, half bear/half dolphin, a picture for every one of those creations.
And grade school adventures, bullies, new friends, soccer, T-ball, baseball, bowling. More of the same in middle school, but now with girls added to the picture. I knew he’d discovered the opposite sex for sure when he wanted to write out his Valentine’s Day cards in private. And the “finding his feet” thing; did he like music and being in the band? Did he like athletics at all anymore? He hated baseball and soccer--I’d coached both to try to keep him interested but he didn’t want anything to do with them.
We sat in the rain in the bleachers every fall when he marched with his horn at football games, we stood on the curb when they marched in the parades (including the Christmas parade which was ALWAYS freezing and the 4th of July parade which was always 90 degrees plus).
And somehow through all the tears and fears we navigated forward to this day where it was all about to come to an abrupt end. In a few short months, he’ll take that collected bag of talents and lessons and apply them on his own as he enters his first year of college. In some odd way, I feel like Dr. Frankenstein; a theory which disgusts my wife but nevertheless has meaning for me. We created a whole person from conception to human development and we saw to the first 18 years of his existence and trained him a certain way and exposed him to selected things.
But now he’ll encounter his own things and will hopefully make sound decisions based on those lessons we repeated over and over. All you parents know what I mean. How many million times when your child was given something as a tot did you say, “And what do you say?” And the child eeks out a, “Tank Yooo.” A lifetime of repeating yourself to drill those lessons in; it’s what parents do, right?
So I’ll spare you my emotional trauma because I am no more special than anyone else out there that loved their child’s childhood, worked through their development and then had to suffer the loss of watching them grow up and eventually away. And that’s what this is all about. His arrival at adulthood signals the end to this phase of parenthood. The duty we sometimes complained about but knew had a wick in it that would eventually burn out. Like the very elderly who know death is imminent, parents in this phase of life realize that these very special days are coming to a close. Yes, there are grandchildren who will need our help and guidance too but we all know that has a layer in between. To have a child is to have your heart go running around outside your body for the rest of your life.
So we filed out of the auditorium and we rounded up his buddies and rugby teammates and pictures were taken, hugs were distributed and young men and women explained over and over what they were “going to do next.” After a half hour of that, he and grandma got in the back seat and the wife and I got in our places in the front. We drove home in relative silence. Silence so deafening I had to turn on the radio. Four separate agendas were being reviewed by the car’s occupants though. He stared out the window, grandma patted his shoulder complimenting his accomplishments and his parents were choking back emotion hoping for the very best in the years ahead. Had we done enough?
We got to the house. He ran inside and changed clothes and we dropped him off at one of his friend’s houses where the first of many parties was getting started. We took grandma to her car and thanked her for being there. She thanked us for raising grandchild #4 so well and noted that Sam’s younger cousin and the last of her grandkids would graduate next year and “that would be all.” She seemed to notice how finite that sounded and there was a meaningful pause. We embraced and watched her go down the road heading off to the home I was raised in, now empty of children for thirty some years.
I got back in the car and the radio was off. My wife had pasted a smile on her face that wasn’t fooling me for a second. I looked at her and nodded silently. “I’m not sure I’ll be able to this very well,” she admitted. I said, “Back before him, it was just us. We just need to remember how this all started.” She smiled through glassy eyes and shook her head, “Nice try Papa but I know you too well. What’s that thing you always told kids, that Lincoln quotation?” I smiled, “The best thing about the future is that it comes one day at a time.” She nodded, “Yep, that’s the one. I think we’ll go with that one for now.”
Her words held more meaning than she knew since she often uses that conclusion for overwhelming topics. A conclusion I’ve heard my son echo a million times; must have gotten it from his mother. How comforting that is.
Good luck and God bless all the grads from 2015!