I‘ve spent so much time thinking how odd it is that K will be starting high school next year, that the entire concept that he’s graduating middle school has completely by-passed any mental space I have leftover after S’s day-to-day- functioning and Baby C’s needs. That’s what I get for having one independent kid. Poor guy, I’m so busy handling the others and musing about his future that I completely miss his present. We’ve been discussing college options since he was four, but I haven’t even bought a sport coat that’ll fit him for three weeks before his arms hang like ape arms out of the sleeves. I just know the moment he walks across the stage to shake hands with the principal is going to hit me like an oncoming Mac truck. I’m certain to burst into blubbering sobs because I have given myself absolutely no emotional preparation for this. It was just last week that his graduation even made an appearance on the horizon in my head.
This is going to be big – mondo! This is my first child’s first graduation experience since preschool. I hate to say it, but I can’t recall a preschool graduation per se. I think I remember an end of year party. I asked him, and he doesn’t remember it either. I don’t think there are any pictures. What happened? That’s a real shame. I don’t think his class had one for kindergarten and I moved him from a K-6 school to a district with a middle school starting in 6th grade at the end of his 5th grade year. He’s been ripped off.
I don’t know how he flies under my radar so much in an average day of our lives. I am pre-occupied with finishing the manuscript, and with his younger brother and sister. He’s pretty quiet and keeps to himself a lot. Mostly he’s reached an age and gathered friends in the neighborhood so that his primary activity is the ubiquitous teen requisite: hanging out anywhere as long as it’s away from adults. Sometimes, when he’s in my vicinity, it suddenly occurs to me that days or weeks have gone by with nary a hug. When he was little, he was the biggest cuddle bunny, constantly against me in full body leans, and taking my face in his little hands to tell me he loves me. Now I walk up to him in the kitchen, put my arms around his lanky frame, and usually have to take his limp arms and wrap them around me in a bit of tragicomedy.
The truth of the matter is that, while I feel like I’ve always been a parent, he is growing up faster than I could have imagined. His milestones are more and more like adult milestones, and so my reaction isn’t what is for his thirteen month old sister. His milestones are normalized against his brother’s, which can seem monumental. And because, even as a little kid, he’s had such a sense of adultness about him, that his milestones come off as givens rather than what they are, which should be remarkable. Oh, he recognizes the need for common good. Oh, he’s waxing poetic on the existential nature of God. Oh, his feet have outgrown mine. Oh, didn’t I just buy those high water pants last week? Oh, wait, is that the first hint of a moustache?! Oh, he’s actually interacting with his baby sister. Oh, he’s consciously choosing to not take this opportunity to fight with his brother. I should be doing much more than having passing thoughts of his capacity to be a kind, to consider any question of spirituality, to grow like the Bermuda grass in my gardens beyond my control.
And maybe that’s it. The idea that he is graduating from middle school has come on so suddenly and sharply, because I know the next handful of years will be spent just trying to balance between allowing him to experience the freedoms that come with self-sufficiency, and keeping him safe. Like his toddler sister running to and fro with not enough sleep bonking her head on furniture, I just want to hold him close, not let him fall on his face as he figures out the world of being a young man for himself. Hopefully I have prepared him well to go at life with abandon, but not so much that he runs headlong into trouble. And maybe, just a little bit, behind all this wondering about his independence, I’m a little fearful, that as he becomes a man, I know him less than I did when I could easily scoop him up in my arms; that there may be those in his friends, who may know him more.