My firstborn will graduate from the University of Virginia in less than two weeks. His four years there–really good years, I believe–passed in a nanosecond. In metaphorical terms, he is perched at the edge of the nest, about to take flight. He has been testing his wings for quite a while now, however. He went away to camp. He roadtripped to Bonnaroo. He's an avid camper. Last summer he worked and studied for two months in Ireland.
|Crowdsurfing at Bonnaroo? Check.|
|Petting a fox in Ireland? Check.|
Three days after he graduates on May 20th, he's flying to Quito, Ecuador to explore South America with a group of friends. His plan is to travel up and down the west coast to see what he sees and do what he does. Machu Picchu. The Galapagos Islands. Maybe even Patagonia. He hopes to spend a few weeks working at a farm that practices sustainable agriculture while he's down there.
After that, he'll move to Austin, Texas to start a job at Oracle. He's ready. We've done our job. He's thoughtful, intelligent, and positive. He's self aware and empathetic. He is full of youthful world-changing optimism. He'll graduate from a great school with an Economics degree and he has friends with whom he will remain close for a lifetime. We are of course extremely proud of what he already has achieved and the person he has become. We know he's ready.
But are we?
This is the crossroads that we parents reach eventually. The moment we know has to come The fact that it isn't a surprise doesn't make it any easier. We pour our love, time, energy, and money into raising our children in the hope that they will become better versions of ourselves, that they will go on to have opportunities and successes that may have eluded us. We raise our children so that we can let go. Not completely of course, but enough. There are thresholds to cross and facts to face.
The separation process began when we dropped him off in Charlottesville four years ago. College is the test run. Can he take care of himself? Can we handle not being involved every day? In this time of helicoptering and overprotection, it's easy to be fooled into thinking that your child needs you for even life's basic things. Does he know how to write a check? (No one his age writes checks anymore.) Can he do laundry? What will he do when he gets sick? Thankfully, Jack didn't need us for any of these things. As most parents eventually discover, our child was much more capable than perhaps we originally gave him credit for. There is a point at which the artist has to step back from a work and say, "Enough. It is done." So it is with parenting. We are never completely finished, but the majority of the work is now done.
He'll move out of our house in early August to begin his professional life in Austin, TX. The room that has been his since he was a boy will ostensibly still be "his" room, but in reality it will become the guest room that we have never before had. Will we keep the giant Carson Palmer Fathead sticker on his wall? I doubt we will do anything initially, but eventually Carson will come down, which probably should have happened when he was traded to the Cardinals from the Bengals. Jack is a Bengals fan, not a Cardinals fan.
Austin will be a great place to visit. It's first on my list of cities I most want to see. I can't wait. Texas. Yee Haw! I don't suppose our initial introduction will be all that pleasant since I hear that Austin in August is absolutely not the place to be. Austin, however, is a vibrant city bursting at the seams with energy, music, entrepreneurship, and outdoor activities. This college town seems like the perfect place for our son to start his post-collegiate life.
For perhaps two hundred years my family stayed close to its roots in southeastern Virginia. Generations and generations of my family lived and died in those counties that comprise southside Virginia. My generation has changed all of that. I have cousins and nieces now in Vermont, Florida, New Hampshire, California, Illinois, and Alabama as well as in Virginia. We are about to add Texas to the list.
My sister, who has been down this parenting road already, has advised me not to get too hung up on this. There's nothing to fear, she tells me. Your children will always be part of your life. With texting and free long distance and video chatting there are multiple methods of instant communication. Besides, she says, if they live in a great city we will enjoy going to visit. There's no finality to any of this. Austin is just the beginning. Enjoy the ride with him! I do have to admit that she is walking the talk. They visit their daughters frequently. They have the annual family vacation that now includes three grandchildren. The adult stage of their children's lives appears to have had little effect on the family dynamic.
We raise them in order to let them go. Their success is our success. I imagine we will find lots of reasons to visit Austin. The Derailers playing at the Broken Spoke? Yes. SXSW? Absolutely! BBQ festival? Hang on, I'll be right there. And of course when Jack wants to come back to Charlottesville for a football game, we'll be there to meet him at Bunny and Joel's tailgate. We will even keep the too-short bed in "his" room for when he comes home to visit.
Good luck my boy! I hope you always walk on the sunny side of the street!