In 12 Months

From our first family trip to San Francisco in 2008

From our first family trip to San Francisco in 2008

I survived my son’s senior photo shoot this morning without crying or otherwise embarrassing him. I even managed to joke a little on the ride home, asking if the photographer had staged any cheesy glamour shot poses (he did). But a few hours later, when I heard him playing a song he wrote on the piano downstairs, the sobbing started. In 12 months, the senior picture will be hanging on the wall, but the piano will be silent. In 12 months, my son will be a legal adult and a college student. In 12 months, his life as an independent person will begin. And in 12 months, my role within it will change forever.

Over the past 17 years, I have watched him grow into an intelligent, talented, compassionate and thoughtful young man. I have seen him enjoy successes beyond anything I ever imagined for him. I have also seen him stumble, pick himself up and learn from his mistakes. And I have been there every step of the way, helping him when he wanted me to and watching from the sidelines when he needed that more. I have been unknowingly making the transition from active caregiver to impartial observer, loosening the reins gradually until he is ready to take them for good. In 12 months, that time will arrive, and there is nothing I can do to stop it.

Nor do I want to. I am excited about what the future holds for him. I can’t wait to see which colleges accept him and which one he chooses. Will it be his dream school, which is relatively close to home, or his second choice, which is 2,000 miles away? Will he follow through with his lifelong plan of becoming a surgeon, or will his career path change? Where will he decide to live after college? Will he marry? Will he have a family? In 12 months, I will know the answers to some of these questions as his adult life starts to unfold. The selfless mother in me will happily open her arms so he can spread his wings and fly, but the selfish mother in me secretly longs to cling to him tightly and never let go.

The selfless mother, of course, will prevail. As I jokingly said to my husband the other day, “It’s not as if I can lock him in the basement and make him stay at home.” It’s just that I didn’t realize how much it would hurt when the milestones turned from “firsts” to “lasts.” Today my son, whom I watched take his first steps and solo car ride, had his last school photograph taken. Tomorrow he will pick up his schedule and books for his last year of high school. A week from tomorrow, that school year will begin, and the lasts will just keep coming. In 12 months, a whole new series of firsts will begin, and none of them will involve me. In 12 months, I’ll be fired from the best job I’ll ever have – or at least demoted to a part-time position.

I’m not ready for that, but my son is. I tried to teach him how to sort laundry today (yes, I still do it for him), and he dismissed me with “I can just Google it, Mom.” He is smart. He is resourceful. He will figure it out – the laundry and everything else – on his own. And if Google somehow fails him, I will only be a phone call away. I may not play an active part in the many firsts that await him, but I will always be here to hear about them. In 12 months, I will still be his mom. Nothing can change that.

Freshman Year: Update From the Mama Front


Some local parents I know received an important letter this week. It informed them of their eighth graders’ class placements for freshman year. High school may still be months away for these kids, but the letter made it official: They will be going, whether or not their parents are ready.

I certainly was not ready when I got the letter last year. My son is my oldest child, so I had no clue about summer school or zero hour. Should he sign up for either or both? He received honors placements for every possible class, but should he take them all? Would the schedule overwhelm him? Would his grades suffer? How could he possibly juggle such a heavy course load and the rigorous practice schedule of marching band — not to mention all the other extracurricular activities he wanted to pursue? Would he have time to make friends and establish strong, meaningful social connections?

For me, the letter marked the beginning of my son’s journey into adulthood, and I was terrified. But you know what? We figured it out, and here we are, a year later; both of us have managed just fine. We made it through some major milestones — his week away at marching band camp, his first homecoming dance and final exams, to name a few. There were some tears (mostly mine), arguments and sleepless nights along the way, but this child of mine, this soon-to-be adult, not only survived the first half of freshman year, he exceled. He took all honors classes and participated in what seemed like a bazillion activities, yet somehow he managed to earn stellar grades. He also met some really great kids along the way. I know it’s only one semester. I know there will be challenges ahead. But so far he has demonstrated confidence, maturity and strength of character. I think he is ready to handle those challenges, and I am figuring out how to manage the way I worry about them.

This week local parents of freshmen, myself included, also received an important letter. It was about driver’s education class. Considering that my son is not even 15, it caught me a little off guard. I remembered my own ill-fated driver’s ed experience (I had to take it twice), but then I thought of the many hours of video games my son has played over the years. All those driving games would surely help him navigate the roads better than his mother, who could probably still benefit from a little Mario Kart practice at age 46.

I decided to file this particular letter under “things to worry about later.” The person I was last year would have been a mess after reading it. But the mother I am now, after the year of tremendous change and growth we both experienced, knows that the milestones are going to keep coming. Whether or not I am ready for them, they will continue to occur and in quick succession. I cannot stop them, but I can change how I react to them. If I deal with them as they happen rather than worrying about them for months in advance, I can manage them. At least I have so far.

Yesterday, I bought my son a new tie for the TWIRP (“the woman is required to pay”; we used to call it Sadie Hawkins back in the ’80s) dance this weekend. I also ordered a corsage for his date, a bright, lovely girl who goes to another high school. Am I nervous about him going to the dance? Not really. We already crossed off “first high school dance” from the milestone list, remember? Plus, I’m too busy being thankful he doesn’t have a license and won’t be driving to the dance. I have some time, a little bit anyway, before I have to worry about that one.