The comments began the summer before my oldest daughter’s senior year of high school Well-meaning, of course. “Wow, this is it!” “Can you believe she’ll be graduating?” “This will be her last (insert event here).”
While all valid, I was never really sure how to answer these comments/questions. “Why yes, I can believe she’s graduating. She’s been here four years.” “Yes, this is her last home volleyball game. What a great run she’s had.” “Yes, this really is it, but she’s worked so hard for this.” You see, I made a conscious decision to simply enjoy her senior year of high school instead of wishing it away. I wanted to be joyfully present in those moments instead of sorrowfully lamenting the end of a good thing. And to understand my decision I must explain my mothering.
I am not an overly affectionate mom. I have three wonderful children whom I love deeply. When they were babies I would kiss them and squeeze them like many other mothers. But as they grew my affection for them changed. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good bear hug like the next mom, but we’re not a family that is constantly hugging and kissing each other. I grew up in an Indian home where love was understood not expressed.
My brother and I always knew our parents loved us but they never directly told us. And I guess in a way it rubbed off on me. I do say “I love you” to the three of them all the time. My text messages to them are filled with smiley, heart-faced emojis. But I’m not gushing over them. I don’t believe in trophies for showing up. They know I love them.
So when my daughter’s senior year rolled around, I wasn’t an emotional mess. In fact, I couldn’t wait to see what the year would hold. There were many wonderful moments: her final season of volleyball, the final home football game where she would sing the National Anthem, the final all-school mass at her Catholic high school, her final curtain call as Fantine in her school’s production of Les Miserables.
Each and every one of those moments was special. And I enjoyed all of them. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel a sense of finality. But that feeling was quickly replaced with pride and joy. In each of those moments she was doing something she absolutely loved. And isn’t that what we want for our children? I should also share that I was not actively holding back tears. I was prepared for the emotions to completely overwhelm me. But they never did. Instead the emotions that appeared left me with a smile on my face and happiness in my heart.
Of course there were challenges as well. That final season of volleyball was not without its ups and downs. She navigated a conversation with her coach about playing time. As luck would have it the microphone would not cooperate during her rendition of the National Anthem at the football game. She did her best to belt it out anyway.
Excitement and exhaustion led to her getting sick the week before the performances of Les Mis. She drank gallons of lemonade-flavored Emergen-C and rested her voice. All of this led her father and me to believe that the fruits of our parenting were beginning to show. She was already managing things on her own and demonstrating that she was ready for the next chapter of her life. I often liken eighteen years of parenting to a crapshoot. You roll the dice and just wait to see what comes up. And getting a few glimmers of our future child was truly exciting, gratifying and humbling.
It was no surprise then that the college process was an exciting time in our home. I didn’t approach it with dread but rather with the anticipation of endless possibilities for this child who has always grabbed life with both hands. We live in Colorado and for as long as I can remember she had wanted an East Coast experience. When I shared this with others I was given quizzical looks. “Why would you want her to go so far away?” people would ask me. “Why wouldn’t I?” I’d reply. I felt my maternal role for her was becoming more consultative. I would make suggestions or recommendations, but ultimately she would decide what she felt was best for her.
Finally her big day arrived and I woke that morning with an incredibly peaceful feeling. Her graduation ceremony was a beautiful affair. With fewer than 200 students graduating, it felt like an intimate gathering. Each student’s name was read followed by the school of his/her choice. I remember the excitement I felt for every one of them. As we made our way through the alphabet the anticipation was building. Then the academic dean read her name. She walked across the stage with a huge grin on her face. Her father and I were beaming as well. Her siblings, other family members and friends cheered loudly. But there was no crying. Not a single tear. Instead my husband and I smiled at each other, high-fived, and said, “One down, two to go.” It was such an amazing moment filled with joy, pride and hope for her future.
That summer was filled with a bucket list of things she wanted to do before leaving for college. We happily checked each one off her list. August arrived and our family made the trip to DC with her. We spent two days getting her settled into the dorm and her new surroundings. And then it was time to say goodbye.
We all knew this moment was coming but just did our best to ignore its impending arrival. We decided to leave just before a required meeting with her nursing school advisor thinking it would be helpful for her to have to pull it together quickly. It was a difficult farewell. We’d be a plane ride away for the next nine months. We hugged her and told her that we loved her and could not be more proud of her. We jumped into our rental car and watched her walk away. They were the longest six minutes of my life. She turned the corner and was gone. And then the tears finally came.
Ila Rosengarten is a stay-at-home mom of three children, 18, 16, and 14 living in Colorado. Her oldest just returned home from her freshman year of college. Born in India, but raised in the US, she brings many aspects of her culture to her mothering. She’s an avid reader and enjoys sharing her journey of motherhood with other moms.