She did it. My newly minted college graduate got the job she’s been looking for, less than a month after finishing school. It’s in her field, and includes responsibilities other than getting coffee for the rest of the office. I should be patting myself on the back for my successful parenting skills at this point, but somehow, that sense of self-congratulation seems lost amidst the swirl of conflicting emotions, with an inexplicable sense of loss rising to the top.
I made it through her graduation without crying, although I must admit that the recorded version of “Pomp and Circumstance” played over a buzzy sound system made me a little misty-eyed. Moving her out of the apartment she shared with her best friend and roommate for the past three years, saying goodbye to the college town we had all grown to love, felt bittersweet but not sad. I didn’t really sense the finality of it all until yesterday, when she came in announcing her new job. She was finally going to be a grownup.
I had worried about her living at home, sleeping till noon, without direction and feeling hopeless. After all her hard work in college, it seemed somehow sad to live in to that stereotype of the adult child.
I couldn’t let that happen to her, or to me. So instead, I did what I always do as a mother. I came up with a plan. I envisioned a summer of supportive mothering, adult child style. We would frequent coffee shops with our computers, sitting side by side and drinking cappuccinos or lavender tea or whatever it is that cool computer toting people drink these days, working on our resumes and writing and checking our emails. We would pause every once in a while to look up and chat about our progress, what we were working on, sharing stories we hadn’t finished telling each other yet.
If she wasn’t totally up for my plan, it would be ok. After 22 years, I have a lot of mom tricks up my sleeve. I joked with a friend that it would be like when she was little and didn’t want to color. I would bring over the coloring book and bucket of crayons and sit at the table, coloring a page, until her reluctance gave way and inevitably she would join in. I can still smell hat waxy crayon smell wafting up from the page as she worked, her little forehead furrowed with concentration. We got through kindergarten coloring “homework” that way, and spent hours learning to write her name, sitting together at the kitchen table with that bucket of crayons.
But now she has a real job and we will not share my vision of our coffee shop summer. They want her to start as soon as next week, and my world has changed in an instant. My other two children (both teenagers) will head off to their summer jobs, and as of Monday, it will just be me and the cat (I’m not sure how he feels about drinking lavender tea).
It’s just a preview, as I’ll still have my high school son at home this fall. But it’s coming. My job as full time mom will be ending and I will face that inevitable day when it will be up to me to find a new job.
I know they will still need me, but it will be in different ways. Supportive texts, listening when they want to talk, all of that will remain, but the day to day will be different. I will hear about their jobs, their plans, their ways of doing things, and I will not be in charge of shaping it anymore.
After all these years of working as a full time mom, being there whenever they needed me, I will be going part time. And then, eventually, I’ll be out on my own. I will be a full time grownup. And for the second time in my life, I will need to consider what I want to be when I grow up.
Catherine Gentry has two daughters, a college graduate and an almost high school graduate, as well as a high school son. She works as a writer and writing coach in Houston. Her essays have been featured in online publications including Grown & Flown, Literary Mama, the “Voices” section of the Princeton Alumni Weekly, and The Houston Chronicle. Find her on Facebook, Instagram and her blog.