My oldest son graduated from high school and I don’t know how to feel.
Since he’s my first, I’ve had a lot of people asking about my feelings. The initial congratulations on his graduation are followed up with the question, “How are you doing?” And every time I’ve responded honestly. “I don’t know.”
I’ve been puzzled by this seeming lack of emotion. I thought for sure I’d be sad. Isn’t that how I’m supposed to feel? When I imagined this graduation event I assumed there would be more tears. I’ve hardly shed any. Is it because I have four younger kids? Is it because he’s going to the University of Iowa and will still be in town? Is it because I’ll be teaching in the same building where he’ll be taking a bulk of his classes? Maybe I’ll feel worse when we start packing up his things, moving him into his dorm room in the fall.
Or maybe my lack of sadness isn’t so strange.
Maybe it’s because even though I know I will miss having him around all the time, it feels right. It’s the way it’s supposed to be.
Time becomes a weird construct when you have a child. Parents often view the passage of time through the lens of their kids’ ages. Three months. Six months. One year. We talk about how fleeting our time with them is, how we feel time slipping through our fingers, and how we wish we could stop time, or slow it down. Months and years seem to be gone in a blink. The cliché holds true: “The days are long, but the years are short.” And this moment is ultimately what all of those years is about. You raise your children so you can let them go.
The emotions finally hit me when we put together the photos for his graduation party slideshow. The baby photos, the photos of him and his brothers, the Halloween photos, the Cub Scout photos, first day of school photos. A collection of those memories, those moments that seemed unremarkable when the photos were taken now represent the cumulative memories of our family life. Toys, vacations, mess, and the people. All the people who had been with us at one point or another on our journey. Teachers, friends, other parents, family. All of these things make up the mosaic of our son’s childhood.
I wondered if I had a time machine, would I go back? Would I want to linger, or stop time and stay forever?
Looking through those photos was beautiful and awe-inspiring. We have so much to be thankful for. As I looked through the photos so many memories came flooding back. I loved parenting multiple young children. I wondered if I had a time machine, would I go back? Would I want to linger, or stop time and stay forever? Would I want to put off the day he goes off to college indefinitely?
No. I don’t think so. I of course miss it, but there are so many other adventures ahead for my children and me. (And besides, parenting older kids is pretty awesome too!)
So maybe it’s not so weird that I don’t feel very sad. My son deserves to be celebrated not only for the accomplishment of graduating from high school but also for the awesome young adult he has grown into. And frankly, I had quite a bit to do with that, along with the village that helped along the way.
I still don’t quite know how to feel and I think that’s okay. But I do know I’m extremely proud of our family and I’m looking forward to the next chapter of adventures.