Third’s the Charm? A Letter to My Son as He Prepares for College

When I was pregnant with you, my third child, I’d be lying if I said that I hadn’t thought about how much fun it would be to have a little girl, a little pink in my life. At the time, I had two little boys, and a houseful of Legos, superheroes and dump trucks, not to mention, everything painted, clothed or covered in blue.

Letter to third child as he is getting ready to go to college

Daddy and I decided not to find out the genders of your brothers. So, in keeping with tradition, we didn’t know what you were.

We figured this would be our last baby (well, we know THAT wasn’t so: after giving away our baby things to charities, four-and-a-half years later, your sister was born… But I digress). We were both getting older and, alas, more tired chasing tots. Whoever this new baby was going to be, life would become more hectic.

And also considering that our family would be complete with this last baby, we decided that this new baby’s first and middle names would bear the first initials of our first names – G for Gerald for your dad and C for me, Catherine.

The stork arrived on June 16, 1998 right around 10:30 a.m. You were a brown-eyed, sable-headed baby boy, who cried out with such urgency, even the doctor made a comment about “the intense pair of lungs” you owned. We named you Graham Cristian.

[More on Mothering Boys here.]

When a mother holds her child for the first time, it’s familiar yet foreign; you’ve gotten to know this little person’s somersaults, hiccups and kicks for the last few months without ever knowing what they look like. In the hospital, I remember thinking that you had the pale complexion of your dad and my mother’s ears.

Our pediatrician once told me wryly that the third child is the perfect child. Indeed, thirds are independent, self-assured and charming. No doubt, it’s a combination of learning on the job while the sheriffs (mothers) respond to more so-called pressing problems: Hence, before you could ride a bike, you were making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and running your own bath water while I felt (erroneously) that it was necessary for your older brother to ace every sixth-grade math test.

Intuition always whispered to me that I’d be the mom of three boys. I don’t know why, but it did. I used to tell you when you were just a tot that you completed that trinity for me. That’s about the time you began to speak – in full sentences, no baby talk, but with proper syntax, always amazing me with your grammar.

[More on What Moms Need to Do to Get Ready for Graduation here.]

Good speech aside, having you as my child has been a gift of infinite proportions. In the high school where you will soon graduate, there are classmates whose parents feel the same about their own children. But you are mine.

Mine from the day I wrapped you in your embroidered name-besotted blankey; mine when you jumped waves in Margate; mine when you broke your arm; mine when you needed stitches on your face, twice; mine when you wore a yarmulke in preschool; mine when I read to you “The Giving Tree”; mine when you traveled to the Baltic States without me; mine when you woke before the sun to study; mine as we held each other when Mom Mom died; and mine as you’ve filled out college applications. All of this has brought you to the next stage of your life.

Lately, as I watch you sitting on the floor scrolling through your phone, the sun sometimes cuts across your high cheekbones. Your long legs spread alongside our dogs, Hilary and Gracie. I have to pinch myself that you’re an 18-year-old with vast sensibilities. How did I get here? Aren’t you still just 5 and watching Bob the Builder?

I’ve been through this leaving-for-college ritual with your older brothers. Isn’t the third time the charm? So, why do I still feel so inexperienced?

I never had siblings. You and your siblings are everything to me. I wouldn’t change a thing in my world.

For the next years, while you navigate college and the world in new ways without me, I won’t be kissing your boo boos anymore. But I’ll try to help you with other issues, like finding the best Asian restaurants, offering tips on doing laundry, or how to live with a snoring roommate.

I know you’re ready. I just don’t know if I am.


The 25 Things Every Kid Needs to Know Before Leaving Home

And Then They Were Gone: Leaving Home for College 

Favorite High School Graduation Gifts 
Catherine Laughlin is a features writer for print and online publications, living in Riverton, New Jersey, just outside Philadelphia. She’s also writing a memoir about caring for her dying mother, who grew up in a Catholic orphanage, and the traumatic secrets her mother buried. You can find her on Twitter.

Don't miss out!
Want more like this? Get updates about parenting teens and young adults straight to your inbox.