College Graduation and the Parenthood Abyss

Mary Dell writes: My son, our eldest child, will celebrate his college graduation this weekend. Today, while I sit in the kitchen, I read the fine words of another mom whose child recently graduated. I begin to imagine the moment when our son’s name is called and he walks onto the stage to receive his diploma. I feel a familiar maternal adrenaline rush beginning to rise and recognize it as the same one I have felt every time I waited for my child to stride onto a stage or take his place at home plate.  But I also sense a new ingredient. After the ceremony concludes and we drive back home, he will no longer be our “school child.”  Exactly what will replace that two-decade long identity takes me to the edge of a parental abyss.

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No longer will his schedule, and ours with him, be dictated by a calendar of September- May. The school schedule, with its rock-solid predictability, provided the foundation on which his life in the classroom and the sports field was built. For three months each summer, the structure relaxed but sprang back to life in the final days of August. Then, before the first class began, we bought new school clothes (last year’s were always too small, too short) and new supplies to load into a crumb-free backpack. The obligatory first day of school photos now fill our albums, shoeboxes and flash drives.

After Sunday’s college graduation, we will begin a new era with our son.  We will place graduation photos in last pages in his childhood photo album, close it and put it away.

What is unchanging, of course, is my unending love for him as mother and son. My pride and excitement on the eve of college graduation are at an all-time high. But “child,” was a label he began to outgrow when he graduated from high school. Soon “student” will no longer fit. In their place will come other ways I will think of him as he takes his first job, moves into a first apartment, and someday, I hope, finds someone he loves enough to marry and becomes a parent, himself.

But in the meantime, until he grows into all of those much more adult monikers, I stand at a parenting edge, waiting for his name to be called.


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