By Robin Noble
It’s here. The one-year countdown to my firstborn’s high school graduation. It suddenly seems real and inevitable that the person at the center of the family universe for 17 years won’t be eating or sleeping here much longer.
Time plays tricks. For me, no matter the circumstance, no matter how responsible and dialed in I may be, I always feel I have more time. Optimism or recklessness? I’m not sure. I regularly assume that 15 minutes are plenty for driving a 20-minute route, with a quick zip to Target wedged in.
But something tells me that mindset won’t fly where the waning days of parenting are concerned. Clearly now is the right moment to consider the time that remains with our high school senior, and how to make the most of it. My wish list:
I hope to resist the urge to make my child’s last year at home a non-stop special event. I believe that the best of times are often the most ordinary: weeknight dinners, driving places, movies at home, mundane conversation.
I’m aiming to maintain the humdrum, even when the schedule gets hectic.
I’d like to find time for a trip or two for pure fun — no college visits, no extended family, no pressure from anything or anyone. A few days of just-us-four.
Since our children were born, there have been many places my husband and I have actively fantasized about taking them “someday.” We never did go on that African safari or Amazon jungle cruise. We never went snow skiing in Japan or to a World Cup game. But we did take some really fun trips together. Driving to Wyoming when the kids were 12 and 9 and camping with the Grand Tetons in the background was spectacular. If we can pull off a trip like that over the next 12 months, I’ll be thrilled.
Last month my daughter attended junior prom. Yes, everyone looked great, but I found the photographs of her, her friends and her friends’ friends surprisingly captivating. Knowledge of the ephemeral seems to be closing in, making photographs like these poignant in a way that I didn’t see before.
I wish I’d never slowed down my picture taking when they hit middle school — a period of time my sisters and I look back on laughingly as “the ugly years.” There is never a trip home where we don’t beg our mother to take down those awful 8 x 10s, but she just says how much she loves them. How beautiful we all are.
This year I want to snap more and more pictures. I will also line up a professional photographer to capture my daughter and her brother at some exquisite point … which is simply before they change again.
One of the things I’m most nervous about when my daughter leaves home is her younger brother. Though not without its challenges, their relationship is strong. The two of them have always been close. They have inside jokes, they protect one another, and they are allies when one is in trouble. Their rhythms are tied to the other’s schedule in ways we can’t quite appreciate at this point, but I know when she’s gone he will feel it.
Over the next 12 months, I’d like to stand back and allow them more time together. I’ll resist the urge to ask “what are you two up to?” and just let them have fun on their own.
Every moment since your child arrived, her story has become less and less about you. During the senior year of high school, that process shifts into high gear. I’d like to take this time to continue to, perhaps more deliberately, fade into the background of my daughter’s story; to ease up my influence so she can step forward, step up, and be confident in her own direction.
This means fewer inquiries about homework, about schedules, about friends, about everything. It means waiting another half hour before texting her. It means not questioning her judgment, even when I suspect it’s flawed, and allowing things to play out. It’s common knowledge that parents naturally begin to detach during their student’s senior year, so this wish is probably just a typical progression; anything less would be fighting a strong tide.
Fading also means treating her more like the adult she is becoming, and sharing information she needs to know — about our family, about the world around her. At this stage, she needs little or no protection from the truth.
Above and beyond these five wishes is a desire to show her more love than ever this year. I want to pull back, but pull her even closer, too. She will need that extra attention and affection, and heaven knows so will I.
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