It began late last summer with the realization of “the lasts”. While syncing my calendar with the school website, the reality of “the lasts” spread out before me, month by month. Last first day of school, last back to school night, last cabaret, band and choir concerts. The last midterm, the last dance; each day left of my child’s high school career, itemized and color coded for me to track and contemplate.
What is this strange limbo that is the “last” year? While so many of his classmates have met that magic milestone of legal adulthood, my child’s 18thbirthday conveniently coincides with the unofficial start of summer, just weeks before school’s final bell. His candles always served as the end of school year reminder that he was bigger, brighter, closer to being no longer ours. Yet the inevitable was only a nagging ache that might be treated at a later date. Now, the pain of the break stands before us.
the launch pad
Halloween time was a particularly difficult stretch because I knew that it might be his last spent carving pumpkins and grabbing candy from the dish. I took great pains to celebrate the season, making my traditional squash soup and baking as many pumpkin treats as I could manage. And then, as quick as it tore from the calendar, that page was gone. Then Thanksgiving, and Christmas, and the lasts that accompany them, before the new year of excitement and possibilities and loss was upon me.
I find myself grasping for nuggets of time, basking in every detail, willing my brain to take a polaroid print for later. I linger longer, hug tighter, listen easier. In every encounter I search for a trace of the wide-eyed toddler, the uncertain adolescent, the awkward teen. But often what I find is the outline of a man that I could never have imagined would have the power to take with him a piece of me I’ll never recover.
The tears show up at awkward times. Cooking a favorite meal, folding laundry, listening to him cantor at church. Although the separation to launch him into the universe began some time ago, the invisible cord, while stretched, tugs harder and harder. While he and his father share their own unique bond, Dad’s approach to inevitable separation is starkly different. “Moms pull, we push,” he’s observed. “I just want to get him out the door and launch him toward his life.” We both do. But for me the count down toward that pivotal launch is shockingly more difficult than I’d imagined.
cutting the cord
When he was born I had a precious several weeks to meet motherhood. Suddenly there he was, pink and squirmy and needing me from the outside. A difficult pregnancy and birth made the gift even more meaningful to me; that miserable state of pregnancy and the long, excruciating effort to deliver him into the world produced a fierce bond that I imagined could never be matched. Here he was, laden with all the hopes and dreams and joy and fear a human could feel.
Each day I felt that imaginary cord trailing behind me, tugging me back toward the quiet nursery, the rocking chair, the sleeping breath. Those quiet joys of night time and firsts. And the firsts were glorious. The smile and the coo and the crawl and the word: it seems the firsts lasted forever. It was the firsts that supplied the never-ending joy and pride, reassuring us that we had finally figured out the parent thing. The lasts seemed a fairy tale, something we heard stories about, but couldn’t possibly be real. Until they were.
There are some new firsts: the first peek at college schedules and the first meetings with new friends and opportunities. The first whiff of independence and a sense that a new litany of firsts is on the horizon – to be shared separate from us. I know my mourning of “the lasts” is not the end of parenthood. I know there will be beautiful times ahead filled with stories and celebrations that will be shared and cherished. The lasts will birth more firsts. And this strange and painful chapter of my life will become a fond memory of pride and joy much like the firsts still are. And he will fly where he can truly soar at last.