Saturday, June 23, 2007

Saying good-bye (and other safety rituals of parents)

This morning, two days after his high school graduation, I sent my son off for six weeks, after which time he's home for two weeks, then away to college, so it really felt like sending him off to adulthood. I said to him, "Don't be a stranger. Call your mother." That's just what my mom would have said to me.

I had been talking with a friend about the things we do to try to keep our children safe, including these kinds of statements, which she called "safety rituals." A few months ago, TJ said he felt that I wasn't treating him like an adult because I peppered him with admonitions like "drive safely," "the roads are icy," "be careful." T. let him know that I talk like this to everyone I love. She's right, of course, but I will admit that my kids get more of that than my other loved ones. After all, in my mind, I've been keeping them safe their whole life. How could I possibly stop trying to protect them now?

And that's what the safety rituals are...they're my version of a magic spell...somehow if I say them, everything will be okay. They're borne from the deep knowledge that sometimes everything isn't okay, that I can't truly protect them from all the things that would hurt them--disloyal friends, romances gone wrong, any number of accidents and illnesses, their own internal struggles, disappointments in their pursuits and passions, global warming, you name it... and since that's too heart-breaking to contemplate, the safety rituals are my defensive armor against that knowledge.

I'm not the first to notice that parenthood is all about saying good-bye, letting go, from the very beginning...

But this year, and especially this week, TJ has let me know in a million different ways that it's time...In the past year, he's gotten his driver's license, been accepted into a great school, won competitions with his chamber ensemble and his school's national orchestra award, overcome some tough personal stuff, and generally learned how to manage his life.

In the past week, wow...his recital was amazing. His opening chords of the Elgar cello concerto literally brought me to tears. I don't have a tape yet, but you can go here and click on May 13, 2007, to hear him play a Bach cello suite.

In the words of his uncle, he doesn't play the cello, he makes love to it. He is completely focused, fully present, and intensely passionate when he is playing. It is a sight and sound to behold.

He played that recital, maintaining a rigorous schedule of rehearsals, while also taking his final exams, keeping his part-time job, graciously spending time with parents, siblings, and grandparents, and doing a serious amount of hanging out with friends.

At his graduation, I watched him and other kids I've known for over 10 years walk across the stage, remembering when he played soccer with that one, did school projects with this one, was good friends with another one. Now they are young men and women, and they will do what young men and women have been doing since eternity...leaving their parents, going out to make their way in the world, and simultaneously filling their parents' hearts with pride and breaking their hearts.

So yes, it's time to say good-bye. Good-bye, my dear son, my firstborn, my baby boy, my young man. You are ready for adulthood. Eat your vegetables, go to bed at a reasonable hour, don't forget a jacket, be safe, and above all your mother.

p.s. More pictures from graduation here.

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