My baby boy graduated from High School last night. Its strange to me, not because I feel as though the years have gone by in a moment and it can’t quite be possible that he’s old enough to be on his own, much less graduating (because it has), and not because I can’t possibly bottle up all the memories and events in his life that add up to this special day (because I can’t), but mostly because I can stand aside and appreciate this wonderful young man in blue mortarboard, robe and honor cords and think, “You’ve been striving for success since the day you were born and I don’t feel responsible for it.” I see other moms, tissue clutched in hand, or eyes red rimmed and glistening, and wonder that I don’t feel that same sense of emotion. I just watch him from aside and feel tremendous joy and pride, knowing he came from Joe’s and my loins, knowing I’ve spent a large sacrificial part of my life with him, but still feeling all the same….he’s come to this honorable spot, emmanating a personality that’s full of charm, conscientiousness and confidence all on his own.
I remember back in fourth grade (3rd? grade) when he was memorizing his times tables. We’d work through the table, both of us tiring of the list quickly. He had Spongebob to watch and Joey Bricker or Drew Hogan ready for a playdate; it was like pulling teeth to get him to work with me. So imagine my surprise as he kept advancing in class through those tables on his own. It was the first time I remember in my life thinking, “He’s got this. I don’t need to worry.” Teachers always spoke well of him, so much that I stopped going to Parent/Teacher conferences; I knew what I was going to hear. Always an attentive listener (except for a few years in middle school) and self-motivated to achieve. Once the school system started giving out letter grades, I was impressed by his ability to achieve A after A without any pushing of my own. I never reminded him to finish his homework, nor quizzed him facts for memorization in preparation for a test as I remember doing growing up. By fifth grade, we’d also identified a strength in writing so that he was awarded The Dare Program award because of his essay on the effects of drugs and alcohol. (((Middle school years, he’d still been an academic wonder, but I remember his fascination with the skater groups. Although a gifted skateboarder himself, I remember his teachers being a tad concerned over his awe of the “F-you” attitude of that group, staring in utter amazement as they flipped off authority, walking in late to class or opening their homework page to a blank sheet. There was no gene within Eric that would allow him that kind of disrespect or irresponsibility, but I think maybe for an instant that kind of freedom amused him. ))))
I’m tickled as I remember seeing him race out of our lakehouse as a teen to meet my parents, jumping into Pops arms in happy greeting. Or in hearing from friends’ parents that while their children were caught drinking, that mine was the rare one that remained sober. Or watching him jump up to find a chair for a guest, or fill a drink for a friend, or wrap his arm around the inner-city friend. My heart swells. We’ve taken him to church (though at times I’m criticized, not quite enough) and been models of generous hearts….but have we taught him this? Where did this compassionate good soul come from?!
I’m struggling with this writing because I feel separate from his accomplishments – without responsibility for the young man he is today. I feel as though he stopped needing me in elementary school, growing into this amazing young man without my shaping or struggle. Is it a positive thing not to have yourself so tied up in their being that you ache, kick and scream with every minor step, feeling that clench of worry if and when they fall backwards? Because I’m not feeling that right now- I feel as though I should feel *more*.
I remember the joys and aches of mothering him over the years – even remember chasing him up the stairs in a full out yell, but mostly just remember an ease of trust, knowing that he was going to do the right thing. If he was going to do anything (and truly, sometimes it was hard to get him to agree to try something new) he was going to excel at it. Whether schoolwork, skiing, wakeboarding, skateboarding, relationships, communicating with adults, navigating his way through adolescence, he’s been independently (successful). I remember thinking at one time in his life, that Eric doesn’t like to do anything he doesn’t feel he’ll succeed at. At times it makes him fearful to test the waters, but once he decides to take it on – he’s gung ho on nailing it.
Maybe that’s why I ache so much now over his indecision of where to head to college. I know it’s in a fear of failing – of being far from home and the security of what is known and comfortable, and fearing that he might be making a mistake. That it won’t come as easy as it has over the years being off on his own, and he’ll need to go back on his decision. I laugh in memory of his decision processes over the years – the angst in front of the Chucky Cheese prize counter glass window or within the ToysRUs aisle, knowing whatever desire was his, he just needed to choose. What if he made the wrong one? That the real joy was lying somewhere forgotten back on that shelf? I’m wondering if he’s feeling that same angst now in that open decision of whatever your heart desires in your future. What if he makes the wrong one, and the real joy – the real discovery of life – is on that other college campus.
Is self-motivation and achievement a matter of being first-born? A natural outcome of living with two stable, successful parents, especially a father that knew he’d become a doctor from the time he was in elementary school? Is that kind of self-motivation inbred?
Janet’s new friend, Tim, asked Joe and I yesterday when was the biggest moment we remember in his life to this point. There’s just so many in an achieving life that I can’t recall a single moment. Like a fool I recall the pride I feel in seeing him soar over a wave while wakeboarding – maybe because it’s out of the ordinary. But I wonder in retrospect what has made me choose something so apparently insignificant. Maybe it’s just in the fact that it’s symbolic for how he’s lived his life so far — he soars above the rest, achieving heights I’d not dreamed of for him. Perhaps even surpassing his own expectations.
Sure, others scored higher than him on their ACT’s, class rank, and GPA. (The valedictorian scored a 4.7!) But it’s this well-roundedness, this all around good hearted, genuine and intelligent soul that I’m amazed with.