I’m not quite sure how to explain it, yet. I’m still sorting it all out. But in a few weeks, my oldest son graduates from college, 500 miles from our home. And his chosen path for work and grad school is out there, not back here.
What’s significant is that this is a healthy separation: the emancipation of a young man into the world. And it is his idea, not ours. That is reason enough to be grateful.
Naturally, I could regale you with the kinds of classic mother-like thoughts that fall into the category of how-did-this-happen-when-I-wasn’t-looking? Or maybe wax nostalgic over all the blissful remember-whens of his childhood. Oh sure, that bubbles up now and again.
But emotionally, I feel pretty ready for this. And actually, it surprises me. In the past, I’ve really struggled with separations; a common malady among extended families separated by many miles, especially when you wish it were otherwise.
The first bittersweet pangs of real adult-child separation came four years back when we drove home from moving him into his freshman dorm. (Okay, I wept openly for two full hours on the drive home. Fortunately, my calm reassuring husband was at the wheel.) But when I went out to school to pick him up the following spring, my son was like a new man. Or maybe, I just started to see him as one.
I realized, after that first year of his being away, that throughout my parenting life, my children are were almost always more ready for new experiences – and ready to grow up – several months ahead of when I "expected." I was constantly in awe of them.
Maybe it’s a function of my own temperament and ability to adjust to change, but with this first son, I’ve learned the most about letting go. And you know what? He’s doing just fine. And so am I. This truly is the lesson of the firstborn child: they mold us, too, whether we admit it or not.
I knew this time was coming, sometime. The family door was open to possibility that he would move back home after college to launch his grown-up life. But it this new direction became clear over the last few months as the grad school application went in, and there were dates for entry-level job interviews in out-of-state locations.
Sure, I continue to pray for him every day. We "talk" by phone and other electronic tethers. But it is not every day, and that it okay. You see, he is already pretty much on his own.
I do miss him. He was home for a short Easter visit, and there were "scheduled events" around which the more relaxed recreational conversations happened. But, yes, we were just settling in with him when it was time to pack him up and get him to the plane. That’s a perennial heartache when we have geographical separations from our loved ones… yet I’m even grateful for the heartache, for the love that it signifies.
So I guess I’m here to say to the mothers who ask me what this is like: I’ll let you know for sure in a few months. But for now, what’s strange is that it is not as scary as I thought it would be. It all seems rather natural. (Oh, I’m sure I’ll be keeping the Kleenex handy at the commencement exercises, and again when we unpack his things into the new apartment.)
But this is the natural part: what I know down deep is moving up from my heart and informing my consciousness – this is all part of God’s plan for this son.
Day by day, as our children grow, we parents stand up and point the way. We hold hands as tiny feet learn to walk. We are the first teachers and the first voices of conscience. We strive to bring our children up in the Faith. Slowly, year by year, our children learn to walk on their own, in so many different ways. Still more importantly, they really can learn to obey the voice that is heard from within their own heart. And we must revere what God may be telling them, where he might lead them. Eventually, we parents know that this is, truly, what they have prayed for all along.
There’s a few verses from the Prophet Isaiah that keep ringing in my ears… reminding me of God’s promise of his faithful guiding presence. It is my prayer as I look forward with joy for God’s will in my son’s life and my own.
The LORD is waiting to show you favor... blessed are all who wait for him!
O people of Zion, who dwell in Jerusalem, no more will you weep; He will be gracious to you when you cry out, as soon as he hears he will answer you. The Lord will give you the bread you need and the water for which you thirst.
No longer will your Teacher hide himself, but with your own eyes you shall see your Teacher, while from behind, a voice shall sound in your ears: "This is the way; walk in it," when you would turn to the right or to the left. (Isaiah 30: 18-21.)
©2010 Patricia W. Gohn
About the Author
Pat Gohn is a married empty-nester with three adult children and four grandchildren. An author, catechist, speaker, and host of the Among Women podcast since 2009, her books include the award-winning Blessed, Beautiful, and Bodacious: Celebrating the Gift of Catholic Womanhood, and All In: Why Belonging to the Catholic Church Matters. She works in Catholic publishing as an editor. Visit PatGohn.net