We moved to our community when our son was 3. He went to preschool all the way through his sophomore year with a lot of the same kids. Those kids’ moms are some of my closest friends. We had countless playgroups, playdates, birthday parties and sleepovers with these families.
We carpooled to school events and sports practices. We cheered for all of them at their baseball, football and lacrosse games. We built a tribe with these families and we loved celebrating all the wins and supporting each other through all the losses.
Our daughter graduated high school when our son graduated middle school. She had the traditional high school experience – homecomings, tolo, sports, senior prom and finally graduation and a big party. We assumed our son would have a similar experience along with all his friends. The parents even started planning the big graduation party years ahead. These kids had grown up together so of course they would have a big celebration at the end of it all.
But as life would have it, our son started down his own path as he entered high school. Friends changed when their interests started refining. The competition is so fierce nowadays that you must really focus on one thing to succeed. When you don’t have that one thing figured out yet, it can be tough to fit in.
He knew traditional high school was never going to be the right place for him. He is our old soul. We should have known this years ago. He’s always been his own person with his own personal style. He likes clothes and music that are different than everyone else. He chose activities that weren’t the norm. All the while, he was creating his own life without wondering if he would be accepted or not. He never played the comparison game. He never cared what others would think. I could learn a lot from him.
He chose to move to the local community college for his junior and senior year. Our state has a program that allows students to earn high school credit and college credit simultaneously. The best part…it’s all free.
But once he left the traditional high school experience, I mourned all the things we were and would be missing out on. No more shared experiences with class projects and lamenting over those really tough exams. No more hearing stories about what all the other kids are up to. No more cheering them on from the sidelines.
No more dances with the pre-dance photo ops and celebrating with the parents. No more booster meetings or PTA meetings. No more dreams of seeing him walk at graduation and planning that perfect graduation party with all those kids from his childhood. Suddenly, I found myself distancing from those friends that were still part of that experience. I had nothing to offer in the conversations anymore. It was a very lonely time.
Recently I realized that this journey is not mine to plan and dream. Our son is happy and thriving with his new experiences. Experiences he never would have had in a traditional high school setting. He’s taking real college classes that are setting him up for success for when he goes off to a university. He knows how to navigate the very stressful registration process already. He knows about buying books and office hours for his professors.
He’s realizing that when he’s 18, he’ll not only have his high school diploma, but he will also have already earned his associate of arts degree. Maybe this will allow him easier access to universities as a transfer student. Maybe because he’s so far ahead, he’ll take a gap year and travel and get even more exciting life experiences. With this path comes some inspiring options.
And because he has more hours in his day not spent sitting in a classroom, he has a real job – 2 of them in fact! He’s learning how to be a good employee. He’s learning how to work with coworkers in a very stressful environment. He’s learning to navigate difficult managers. He’s figuring out how to plan ahead and be organized so that he can have time off when special things come up. He’s saving money for HIS big dreams.
Now that I know it’s not about me and what I want for his life, I can celebrate all his successes instead of mourning my losses. I am one of his biggest cheerleaders. I’m finding interests to fill me up that are not tied to his experiences. And along the way, I’m finding out who I am once again. It’s been over 20 years now that I’ve been raising kids at home. It won’t be long before my baby spreads his wings. I’m glad he’s taught me how to find myself before that happens.
Kari Alexander is wife to John and mom to Rachel and Ben. She is a Jesus follower, a writer, an avid reader, a podcast fanatic, and a living kidney donor. She’s a crazy workout addict, which is a good thing because she loves coffee, chocolate, french fries, and wine! Her favorite things to do are travel and spend time with friends and family. She can be found on Facebook and she blogs at karialexander.com