“Parents can only give good advice or put the on the right paths, but the final forming of a person’s character lies in their own hands.” ~ Anne Frank
Have I done my job well? Did I teach my daughter all the things I meant to impart to her, before she turns 18 and tells me, “Mom, I’m an adult now - I can make my own choices!!” Did I teach her enough manners, enough worldly skills, to get by in a world that could very well eat her alive? Did I teach her survival, when someone breaks her heart, that it’s okay to cry, it’s okay to be human, and that to rage against the machine is only a huge waste of energy? Oh, God, did I teach her enough?
Nobody prepared me for this time. Nobody told me of the heartache of the teenage years with a child, and nobody especially told me of the heart wrenchingly bittersweet moment in your child’s life when they grow up, and you watch them fly from the nest.
I think that if someone had told me that, if there were a self help book about that, I probably would have run, screaming from the room, and would never have undertaken the privilege that it has been to be the parent of a seventeen year old daughter.
I would have most likely saved myself from years of heartache, years of headache, because this job does not come without risk. There are times that I want to cradle her to me, when her heart has been broken by a relationship that did not work out. There are times when I want to do this, and I have to stop myself sometimes, because I have to allow her to run free, to experience life’s pains and joys all on her own. For, how else will she learn?
I’ve been crying like a baby for two weeks. I have blamed it on burnout, on menopause, on depression, on writer’s block - anything that I could, in order to stave off the feelings of true sadness that I am currently experiencing. I have tried to shop it off, eat it off, scream it off, break things, but the fact remains: My daughter is growing up, and the grains of sand in the hourglass when I will be able to shield her from life is running out. I’m petrified out of my skull, and I don’t want to face those scary feelings. I don’t like feeling out of control, and I will admit to all of you that I am handling this sloppily and messily, which is not a pretty sight.
I am experiencing the bittersweet joy of high school senior year. What should be the most fun, the most carefree year of my daughter’s life has been fraught with anxiety, from both her and from me. Her anxieties are more realistic: “Wow, it’s a scary world out there - how am I going to survive in it?” “What’s college going to be like?” “Will I ever get to see my friends and chill with them again?” I can understand it; I remember how I felt as though I were wrenched from the womb, the day I tossed my cap into the air, with the 300 odd others who shared that special day with me. I remember thinking those same thoughts, along with one other that my daughter and I share: “Will my parents be okay without me?” Selfish, yes, but I wondered it back then, and my daughter wonders it right now. Will we be okay?
I think back to her first day of kindergarten. I remember how horrific it was for me, that entire summer, to think that my little buddy was going off to school, and, albeit for half a day, she would be away from me, meeting new people, and I was frightened for her. I was frightened to let go.
I think that senior year is even scarier than that first day of kindergarten. My daughter is driving now, and sometimes she is responsible enough to let me know where she is going, but let’s face it, folks, she is a teenager, and sometimes does not remember to text when she arrives at her destination. That is frightening; the roads are busier than when we were kids, there is more road rage, and the chances that others take with their own lives bring about great fear for me for my own child.
Senior year means that this is the end of your child’s career in the public school system. I have been mourning this for quite some time. I don’t have another child who is coming up in the system, that I can still enjoy. I don’t have any more booster club or PTA meetings left after these are over. These days will be gone, and this chapter in her life will end, and thus, it will end in my own as well. I grieve it, and have been doing so, for weeks. Yet, I have been cowardly enough to blame it on everything else except what it really is. I’ve called it depression, I’ve called it menopause, I’ve called it “being sick of everything”. If I would just LOOK at it and accept it for what it is, it won’t hurt so much. At least, that’s what I keep telling myself.
Senior year can be a happy time, too. Your child is free of the pressures of the 11th grade, which is fraught with testing, difficult classes, SAT’s, prep courses, and the pressures of doing well. After all, that is the year that the colleges will be looking at. By the time your child enters their senior year, it is already too late, and whatever work they have done gets looked at, but is not as scrutinized as what they worked for in the previous year. They are making new plans, talking about colleges, they are chilling more, because they, too, know that this is the end of life as they have known it since early childhood, and now, life will be beckoning them, with all of the snares and trappings that the world has always had. We just have to hope that, as parents, we did the right thing, that we taught them well.
It’s scary to let go. I’m fearful to let my little bird fly free. However, a great parent will stand back, with tears in their eyes, and even allow them to fall, unabated, because that is what life is. It is about allowing the life that you so preciously cared for forge its own life, about allowing it to bloom and become something better than you were. Or perhaps, maybe not better, but just what is right for them.
It’s all that we can hope for, and it is all that we can wish our children, because they are our future. And as I write this, with tears streaming down my cheeks, I wish my daughter and every one of her classmates, and all of those who are graduating this year, the ability to fly, to fly free, to fly unashamed, and to follow their dreams, for that’s what life is all about.
Fly, my little bird, fly free. Chase those dreams, and be all that you can be. You don’t have to be better than me. You don’t have to outdo me, even though that’s what every parent hopes for, for their child. All you have to be in this world is YOU. And YOU will be just fine.
Guess what? In the end, so will I. And I will always, always love you.