Dear Senior Parents,
I thought about you all recently when my grandson turned 10, and we were celebrating his entry into double digits. It seemed impossible that he had crossed into this mathematical doubling: he was suddenly all boy, and I started to imagine him with a shadow-like darkening of his upper lip. That, too, would happen sometime. “Calvin,” I said to him, “you’re into the land of double digits.” He smiled, and then looked pensive…thoughtful, but concerned as well. “Mom,” he asked next, “did you go to college?” She answered “yes,” and he nodded slowly. A bit later he declared, “I’m never going to go to college; I’m never leaving home.” He was turning 10, and had not even gone to a sleepaway camp. For him, leaving home was almost inconceivable and about as far away from desired as one can get.
But now, here you all are faced with a different moment: one of readiness for leaving home, one marking a new way of being a parent. And no matter if this is your first high school senior daughter or your last, the once familiar landscapes are shifting, and I’m betting that not one of your daughters is where Calvin was in January.
So now you’re going to have to dial up that beautiful tension of being there while letting go. And this time, no matter the distance she travels, it’s physical, even visceral. Your daily breakfast or dinner or walk to school together becomes the land of texts, and like those Harry Potter owls, you’ll be delivering more messages than receiving them. But sometimes we forget that this shifting ground means opportunities for you as well. As you — and you will — think about those watery-hued memories of a little girl now morphed into something quite different, you may also find yourself quietly eyeing the spaces she leaves behind for you. Will you take up that passion you didn’t have time for? Will you learn a new language, start a new career, claim her room for something else? This senior-leaving is a thing of many doors, some of which are yours to open as well.
You’re also going to have to be even better at guiding them while not being them. You’re now living more around the edges of their lives, and mostly gone are the guiding conversations about turning right or left, going straight ahead or pivoting. The map of how to walk in this world will mostly be theirs now…or should be. I like to think of it in this way. You’ve done your best. You have shown them that the world can be good or bad, but is mostly good, especially if they add to that goodness. You have ferried them well into young adulthood, and now it’s time for them to do their own map-making, time for them to do their own stumbling and picking back up. You may still be a travel agent—and you probably will be—but the trip is all theirs.
And then there is their “their-ness.” The cadences with which they move through this world will certainly be theirs and theirs alone, and there’s nothing like when they leave home to sharpen that reality. The rendering of self gets stronger, and while you’re as happy about that as when they lost their first tooth, you’re also still wanting them to believe that a fairy might still leave some money under their pillow. I remember when my daughter, Beth, chose Berkeley for college, I had some quick and romantic images of her rallying for the next cause, sitting in at the administration office, working for peace: pictures of everything I never did but kind of wanted to have done. But when she called asking if she could join a sorority, and that she had a date with someone named Trevor, I realized that it was all Beth at Berkeley…all her and not me. And here’s another good part to think about. None of this is really an exodus; it’s just part of the evolving time-lapse and another mile-marker. There’s an always-ness to parenting, always a present tense marked with unwavering love and very different dances along the way. So, I close with one of my favorite poems saluting parenting along with a huge thank you to each and every one of you. It has been both a pleasure and an honor to be by your side as your remarkable little girls grew into even more remarkable and stellar young adults.
What a wonderful witnessing. Good job, parents, good job.
“Sentimental Moment or Why Did the Baguette Cross the Road?”
Don’t fill up on bread
I say absent-mindedly
The servings here are huge
My son, whose hair may be
receding a bit, says
Did you really just say that to me?
What he doesn’t know
is that when we’re walking
together, when we get to the curb
I sometimes start to reach
for his hand.
This piece first appeared on Spenceschool.org