I opened the envelope in the driveway, shivering as the January wind ripped through my pink flannel pajamas. I scanned the letter quickly, finding everything I hoped to see. My son, a soon-to-be high school freshman, had earned honors placements in all his classes, a clean scholastic sweep. My first thought was to call my father, my own academic drill sergeant. The tears stung my freezing cheeks as I imagined his voice, knowing I could no longer hear it, but relishing the sound of it in my head.
As a parent of two, I am no stranger to the bittersweet thrill of watching my children reach milestones. As a woman who lost her parents at various stages in life, I also know the haunting emptiness of experiencing my own firsts without them. What I did not fully recognize until I opened that letter last week is how much more I ache over my children’s milestones now that all three of my parents are gone.
I brushed away my tears as I headed inside to tell my husband, wanting to escape the cold and my melancholy. I watched his anxious anticipation as he took in the vision of me in his office doorway, still shivering in my pink flannel pajamas, eyes wet and red, clutching a mysterious letter. I stumbled tearfully over the words, and somehow he managed to surmise that, in fact, no one had died and the letter contained positive news.
“I don’t think I can do this,” I told him, sobbing as he read it. “This high school thing — it’s not gonna work for me.”
I can only imagine what he was thinking as he patiently consoled me, but I’m sure it was something along the lines of: “Oh, boy. Here we go again.”
You see, I am not like those other mothers who healthily anticipate change and eagerly prepare themselves and their children for it. I was anxious, borderline neurotic, for weeks before my oldest child’s first days of elementary, intermediate and middle school. Now every time he or anyone else says “Class of 2017,” I catch my breath. In a year and a half, he will be driving, and I will be forced into the passenger seat. I will be able to suggest alternate routes, different turns, safer speeds, but he will control the wheel. How will I let go and allow him to venture into the unknown world of adult disappointments and heartbreak?
These were the bleak thoughts I wrestled with that day, as I waited for my son to get home from school. I wondered what advice my father, a stoic World War II veteran, would give. When he and I tussled verbally during my tumultuous teenage years, he often said, “You know, if there were classes on parenting back in my day, I would have taken them.” I’m sure he chuckled heartily at my expense over all the parenting books I read years later, knowing that none of them would prepare me for the hard-knock lessons of watching my own children grow up and away from me.
When my almost freshman walked up the driveway that afternoon, I thought of how proud my father, who hadn’t finished high school, had been of me when I graduated an honors student. Although I could not tell him about his grandson’s achievement, I felt his pride right there, next to my own.
I met my son at the door and gave him the letter, watching the relief and satisfaction wash over him as he read it. For a moment, I felt only his joy and none of my dread. “You earned this,” I said, hugging him tightly. “I am so proud of you, so happy.” And I was — tears, pink flannel pajamas and all.
My best friend who I have known since I was nine, just lost her dad. I have mourned along with her and thought about my own parents, 17 hrs away. My dad, with severe agoraphobia who won’t leave to see us. Whose reality is skewed so he shows off his sharp knives to my hubby as my son waddles around right by the knives. How I want my dad in my children’s lives and the idea of him passing (esp after the scare last year where he had 3 heart attacks) scares me. My best friend cries to me over the phone, how her young children will never remember theirgrandpa. I cry along with her.
But…..but…try your best to see the adult your son is becoming. It is a paradigm shift for a mother but be proud of who he has become!
Thanks, Gem. Those are wise words. I think I’ll get there, albeit slowly.
I am so sorry for your friend and for your own struggles. It is painful to love someone but not be able to make them fit safely in your life. I have a relative who struggles with addiction. It’s different, but I think I get where you’re coming from.
I just love the posts where you talk about your dad. You had such a special relationship with him, and your love for him shines through all of your words.
Thanks, Samantha. I worshipped my father, but we went through some tough times. It wasn’t till later that we came to have a solid relationship. I regret that.
so sweet and bittersweet, just what i love to hate to love. i’m with you. it ain’t easy. but love is all we got. just keep on giving. and yay your son. 🙂
Thank you and right on! It’s all about the love.
So glad you are out of hibernation and this is such a beautiful, heartbreaking post. i feel your pride and your sadness that your dad isn’t here to share these moments. I worry myself sick at times imaging the things my parents will never get to experience with my own children.
Thanks so much, Robbie. Make the most out of your time with them. It is so precious. We missed out on some memories because my family was a five-hour drive away. I can’t tell you how much I regret that now.
oh my heart.
It’s hard to imagine all this when they are young like your little sweetie, isn’t it?
You will make it through, just as your son will. For us, HS has been a great experience. Don’t get me wrong, there have been struggles, but overall, our oldest, class of 2015, has done an excellent job. Of course I think her parents have supported her pretty well too! Looking forward to more adventures in High School for you, and hopefully running into you at a marching band competition this fall.
Thanks, Doug. I am loving all the reassurance from people who already know the ropes. It truly helps.
Sounds like we have one the same age; I just about throw up every time someone says “Class of 2017.” All fall has been about applying to high schools and now I’m just waiting with my stomach in knots to see if he gets in to the one we most want. I still have my parents to share joys and sorrows with, but I feel your tears nonetheless. Lovely post!
Thanks, Louise. I can’t imagine the added stress of having to choose a school. I feel for you.
My oldest is a high school freshman, and as I hug my baby who is three inches taller than me, I wonder where the time has gone. I’m so proud of the independent young woman she is becoming, but I don’t want to let go of my little girl.
Beautiful post – thanks for sharing and making me teary eyed!
Thanks, Dana. It’s so hard to let go. We don’t think about that before we have them — not that I would trade a minute of it.
Oh, darn those children always growing up… And many hugs for bittersweet milestones…
Thanks, mama. I appreciate those hugs.
Awwwww, I teared up at the end of this and I’m not a crier. I love that you carry your dad with you and are so proud of your son. <3.
Thanks, Larks. My dad was so proud to be a grandpa. It really brought out a different side of him.
My two sons are in 9th and 10th grade right now. I can’t believe I only have a few years left before they’re off to college. It’s so great, but so hard getting used to each new phase and having to leave the old one.
Oh, wow, Marcy! I think college may finally put me over the edge. How do you cope with all the changes? I’m beginning to think I need a guidance counselor more than my son.
It’s pretty crazy to think about them being out of the house so soon. I look at old photos and miss the boys they were, and yet the men they are now becoming is so great too. I can see now why so many people go so crazy for grand kids–they get to do it all over again.
That’s such a good way to look at it: focusing on the adults they are becoming. And grandkids? Yes, please. I’m ready now. 🙂
I miss my father and my stepfather more everyday. Life just isn’t the same without them. I love the way you write and I love this post.
Thank you so much, Susannah. I’m happy you can identify with the post but extremely sad for your loss. You are right: Nothing is the same without them. Hugs to you.
They are not allowed to get big! Not ever!
I’m with you.
My oldest is 13 and I already identify so much with what you’re saying. And I wish my father could have met him. You so perfectly and beautifully encapsulated the emotional tug of war of parenting and of having been parented.
Thank you so much. Your lovely compliment means a lot to me, especially since I know you can relate. Life is just better with all the grandpas and grandmas in it. I feel for my kiddos and yours.
I can so relate to this. Having lost my mom just 10 weeks into my first pregnancy I go through life celebrating every milestone but grieving that my mom isn’t there to see or share it. And as my kids grow I get all panicky about the way time just keeps marching forward. How quickly babyhood will turn to childhood to teenage years to adults. It’s all so fast. I loved this.
Thanks, Amanda. I’m so sorry about your mom. What a devastating loss to experience while pregnant! It must have been so lonely to go through it without her support, especially since it was your first pregnancy. I really feel for you. Big hugs.
He’s precious…I can’t imagine how I will be with my 2 boys…that image of you(me) in the passenger seat is enough to make me cry….
Awww. I hear ya, mama.
I love so many things about this piece – it resonates w/ me as a parent (even though my kids are only just turned four), and as a son whose parent is no longer alive, and whose children will never get to meet their grandpa. I often think about what my dad would think of my kids, my parenting, and how we all would get along. I guess I’ll never know, but it won’t stop me from thinking about it. Thanks so much for this post, putting yourself out there, so that the rest of us parents can feel vicariously through your words.
Thank you so much, Jared.
I think it’s good that we don’t stop thinking about what our lost parents would do or say. Even though they are no longer here, we will always carry the lessons we learned from their parenting and who they were as people with us. Our children may not recognize it, but they experience their grandparents’ influence through us and how we raise them. Our parents’ legacies live on, and it’s comforting to recognize that.
For a second I thought that was a current picture of your son and I was really worried that I had lost my hold on reality, thinking he looked incredibly young for an almost high school freshman!
Haha! Late-night reading will do that. 🙂
Ah, my heart breaks for you! I can’t imagine being a parent without my parents there. You are brave.
I don’t feel very brave most of the time, but thank you.
I adore this, because it’s a testament to the theory that the teen years are so hard. Sure, they’re hard, but there are triumphs too, just as you show here. I have a daughter in the class of 2018. I’m not even ready for eighth grade.
Thank you, Arnebya. Everyone keeps telling me high school is so much better than middle school. Personally, I hated both. But I hope our kids and yours have a good experience. All we can do is guide them, right?
Congratulations to your son! I know how difficult it is to not be able to share things with loved ones no longer with us. I enjoyed this piece.
So hard! I have a big age difference. My older son is a junior and just got his permit so we’re driving around…my youngest son is 9 so I still get lots of hugs. I think the hardest will be when the youngest grows up (although it will be totally weird when the oldest goes off to college). You captured these feeling very well!
Thanks, Stacie. Junior? Permit? Yikes. How do you manage to stay so calm, cool and collected? 🙂
Enjoy all those little guy hugs. They are so precious. I’m thankful my 13-year-old still gives me my share, although I’m sure it won’t last forever.
I’m reminded again of how very young boys look when they enter High School compared to girls.
Congrats on raising an honor student. It really is something to take pride in.
Thanks! We’re very proud of him.
That pic is actually from his first day of fourth grade. 🙂
Your pride and joy shine through every word of this post!
Glad you felt that. Thank you!
So sweet. You can do this high school thing.
Thanks, Angela. I guess I don’t have much of a choice, right? My friends with older kids tell me it gets easier. I hope they’re right.
This was so bittersweet. But I think you came a great point at the end. Even though you will always be thinking of the people you lost, who are there to relish in your joy, during those milestones, if you focus on the little person you’re proud of, it’ll help push away some of that pain. Beautiful post!
Thanks so much, Kim. It really does help push away the pain. I try to focus on how lucky I am to have two such amazing little people in my life and a husband who loves, understands and respects me. Sometimes the grief creeps back in, though.
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I think you give us other parents too much credit. I don’t know anyone who healthily anticipates change. It’s hard! My children are 22 and 19 and Paul’s are 20,18 and 16. When did this happen? I need to talk to someone, because I was led to believe that the years would not fly by this fast! Congratulations to you, your husband and your son. You are all doing an excellent job!
I found your site through yeah write. I’ve been thinking about starting my own blog and decided to read through a few. Your posts are very moving. This one brought tears to my eyes. My father has been gone for over 20 years, my mom about 6. It is those moments when your child does something – good, bad, magnificent – and you want to share with it your parents, but then you realize they’re not there anymore and you feel a deep lonely void. I often want to ask them how they did it (I am one of 7!) or I just want to share some wonderful accomplishment made by one of my 3 kids. It’s brief wonderful moment wanting to contact them. Then it’s gone when I realize they’re not here anymore.
My oldest is now a freshman in college. My father used to work for a university in their communications dept. I often wonder what he would think of my fine young man, my junior in high school who is now looking at colleges and my lovely daughter who fills a room with love and happiness, but can guard a girl 20lbs heavier and 6 inches taller!
Anyway, I’m rambling. I’ve a lot to learn about this blog thing! You’ll be fine with your kids. Just take it one day at a time and enjoy each new milestone.
Hi, Dolly. Wow, your comment really sums up the feeling of loss and emptiness of parenting without parents of your own. It’s comforting to hear from someone who understands. Thank you for the encouragement. The milestones are the hardest, but I am excited to watch how my children’s lives unfold.
I’m so happy to have connected with you. Thanks for stopping by and commenting!
P.S. You should start a blog. You have a great, honest voice. Go for it!