Navigating the Launch of Our College Graduate


Beginning the process of letting go of Bryn at UChicago's Orientation 4 years ago. Check out that grip!

Bryn, our oldest, is graduating this weekend from UChicago. Natalie, a college junior, has just returned from Spain and is in the midst of a hard-earned internship at the local hospital. Aaron will be wrapping up his finals and preparing for a ski camp in Oregon, which starts the day after Bryn’s graduation. Mary will still be in school. And my mother, recently widowed, is in the midst of hay season at the ranch.

Bryn, not one for these dramatic moments, would be perfectly okay to forgo pomp and circumstance: I can just come home, Mom. Uncle Mitch tells the story of how he once stood on his dock watching his teenage son out in the family’s small motorboat, zipping around the small lake in Minnesota with his friends. That moment turned to terror when he realized his son was headed directly toward the only other boat on the lake.

Mitch waved his arms and yelled helplessly from the dock, his blood pressure rising and his pale Irish skin reddening like a radish. “You're going to hit the other boat,” he screamed. “Look up! Look up! Look up! Look ahead!!!”

There have been so many moments when Dave and I have stood on that proverbial dock, yelling into the wind. For instance, Start applying and pursuing an internship the summer prior to during the fall your junior year, not the winter! Fulfill your language requirement before your senior year, and take Spanish 3 immediately following Spanish 1 and 2! Reserve a U-Haul prior to move-out day!

Our oldest is on the verge of real adulthood. There have been so many moments when we’ve stood on that dock and watched him cut smoothly through the water, far and clear from obstacles. For instance, observing him articulate a point about the impact of student debt on our society so clearly to our friends on the patio. Watching him read, over a bowl of cereal, a thick-as-a-phone-book empirical asset pricing text with genuine interest. Enjoying him laugh and joke with his dying grandfather in true connection. Being introduced to a girl he brought home— bright and full of wit and laughter—who thought nothing of helping Mary spend four hours creating a glittery gold presentation board for English class.

For months, the discussion between my husband and me has gone a little something like this: “It’s too much to get everyone out there to Chicago for his graduation. It’s just too much. How about just the two of us drive out? We can stay with him, no? And, I’ll drive back with Bryn in a U-Haul.” “But I know Aaron wants to go. And so does Natalie. And Mary.” These siblings, who bickered and giggled and caught stomach bugs and slammed doors and made Mother’s Day projects of pipe cleaners and tissue paper and Elmer’s glue, wanted to celebrate together.

A month ago, I called Dave at work. “We have all got to go. We’ve all got to show up for him. He’s graduating from college, and the next weekend we will all be together is in mid-July. Actually, it’s probably one of the only weekends we can guarantee we will ALL be together.” “I agree, but it can’t cost a fortune. Hey, its only 12 hours away. Let’s just drive.” “YES. Let’s just drive.” I do not think about the 22 hours in a car over a 4-day weekend.

Eventually, Uncle Mitch gave up on yelling: His son and his friends couldn’t hear him. In fact, they never could hear him. At the very last second, his son swerved and instead of t-boning the other boat, they careened off of one another, leaving nasty scrapes on the paint but the passengers unharmed. Uncle Mitch exhaled.

This is what it feels like to let go of your kids. To send them off to school and college and into adulthood and to understand that you are no longer at the wheel, that their triumphs and mistakes and near misses are all theirs. Showing up is what matters. My vision of mothering a big family—well it’s never going to align perfectly. Never. And the shoulds of it aren't the point, really. It is the mix of it, the showing up for the good, the bad, and the ugly and seeking a way to love each other through all of it. Might there be bickering and some snarky remarks? For sure. But we will show up. Because that is the point. Exhale.

Image source: JPM personal files
Publication date: June 6, 2018


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