By Scott Sager
Watching my older daughter take hold of her diploma on the stage and shake hands with the principal and the Head of School, I’m filled with pride, relief and sadness.
I’ve been suffering from fits of nostalgia for months, looking through photos of her through the years. I even hosted a reunion dinner for the “children” from her preschool class and their families, nearly weeping as the parents snapped pictures of the kids sitting together again these many years later.
High school graduation feels like an ending, as if my child and our entire family are stepping off a cliff together, unsure where — or if — we’ll land.
Senior year of high school was quite a ride. First the slog through the application process, the final campus visits and standardized tests with a smattering of arguments and increasing tensions. Then came the waiting — all of us on pins and needles, captives to the calendar. Finally, the answer arrived and a decision was made, bringing giddy anticipation and only a few regrets. Lastly, the task of keeping my daughter engaged in school until today. Thank goodness for softball and great teachers.
Much of my life as a parent has been leading up to this point when my daughter would know how to drive a car, balance a checkbook, cook a meal…all the skills needed to manage on her own as an adult. We’ve arrived. Now what?
The uncertainty fuels my imagination. Although I envision fun trips to buy things for her dorm room and the bustle of packing her up, I keep coming back to the specter of an empty bedroom signifying changes in our home and family.
My soon-to-be-college-student is starting so much. I recognize how this moment is launching her into a new phase of her life. Just the fact that she’ll be working full time this summer is different from years past, when the season brought fun, family and friends. Beginning her collegiate studies means entering more than classrooms. She’ll have a new level of responsibility for her own actions. She will make more and more decisions about her life on her own.
Of course parenting won’t end when my eldest heads off to campus. First, there is my younger daughter, who’ll be a high school junior next fall. I look forward to more time with her — baking and weekend excursions — although I understand she’s reached an age where she’d often rather spend time with friends than with me. There will be adjustments for her as well, without her sister to turn to for advice, support or to vent about the tyranny of their parents. Thank goodness for computers and cell phones to help the two of them keep in touch.
There will be more time for my wife and I to spend together — more opportunities for movies, dinners with friends, long weekend walks with the dog. I look forward to this first step towards an empty nest, but I’m nervous, too. We will have to re-learn how to focus on each other after so many years prioritizing family time.
My relationship with my college student will also be changing as we shift from parent-teen to parent-adult. I’m sure I’ll struggle to keep my mouth shut, stifling those judgmental exclamations that start with, “You really should…” or “What are you thinking!” I’ll need to learn how to be more of a counselor or friend and relinquish my limit-setting, rule-making role, giving her space to figure things out for herself.
But it’s still tonight. It’s still now. I look around the auditorium, filled with parents and grandparents, cameras held high, basking in the accomplishments of our children. It is a warm, triumphant moment for students and families as we all look both back and forward in a single instant. As my daughter makes her way off the stage, the biggest smile I’ve ever seen on her face, she is poised to step into a new chapter of her life. Our whole family is making the leap with her.
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