|This hangs in my son Zack's bedroom.|
May & June are graduation season, and it seems like every time I open Facebook one of my friends is celebrating their graduate. My turn comes this Friday, when my oldest son Zack will graduate from 8th grade. Like most parents, I am looking at this milestone with a mix of emotions. On the one hand, I can't wait for him to be finished with middle school and begin high school, but I also know that my son is growing up and his days of being a little boy are now behind us.
In the paraphrased words of Britney Spears, he is 'not quite a man but not a boy'. Physically, this has been happening for some time. The evidence is everywhere, at 14, he is now officially taller than me. His voice has grown deeper, he has started shaving, albeit infrequently, and we have had to endure the lovely mood swings that often accompany puberty. Emotional maturity, is of course, much harder to pinpoint than physical maturity.
Parents of small children, coordinate every logistic for their children from morning until night. When your child enters their tweens, and then teenage years, you enter a new phase of parenting their hearts and minds. We struggle with when we should push him to be like us, and when to pull back. We ask ourselves on a daily basis, should we let him fail, pull him back from hurt, force him to do something that is uncomfortable, teach him a life lesson or let him learn it on his own?
When they get older, you can buy them bigger clothes, teach them to tie a tie for the first time, but there is no one emotional moment, that you know it is time to let him figure out who his real friends are, if a girl likes him or if he has been treated fairly. You have to watch and listen closely, navigate it and hope you get it right.
When I see my son sitting next to me in the car, I sometimes look at him and think there is no denying he is his own person now. We can continue to influence him, but his personality is all his own. I hear myself telling him frequently, that ultimately he has to live with his choices, whether to be organized or sloppy, happy or cranky, eager or unmotivated, fearless or reluctant. It's not easy on either of us, he makes mistakes, we are frustrated, we argue, we make up. It is not unusual for me to be proud of him and frustrated with him within the same hour, let alone the same day.
It is through this process, I have come to realize that we are growing up with him. He is not the only one maturing. My husband and I help him navigate being a teenager as best we can of course, but it is not easy letting go drip by drip. As parents, you know the changes are happening, but you can't often see them during the day to day because you are caught up in the frenzy of schedules.
Like many parents of my generation, we want to pass on the best of our childhoods and also, give them something new, something that is unique to our family. To give him the best of our heritage, where we came from, how we got here, share our family history with him, our traditions, our culture, our values.
We see him trying to work it out. Zack is now curious about our world, the world outside of our family -- my husband and I's career choices and our religious and political beliefs. He is informing himself, reading articles and asking our opinion about countries, individuals, policies. It is a whole new level of discourse. We see him trying to work out the difference between us and him. He is trying to understand the ins and outs of friendship, family, community, and his place in it.
Zack's whole life in many ways is still a mystery to me. How can I have given birth to him, nurtured him through so many struggles, literally communicated for him, and still understand so little about him? I am still learning how to be his mother, I am learning that we are connected, but he is no longer a physical extension of me. We want him to be independent and yet, we still want to protect him. His life, that has been infinitely harder and easier than ours, all at the same time, is just beginning.
It is through the milestones we celebrate that we know that time has passed, and the future we talked about years ago is here. The future I once feared with all my heart. All the times I worried that life would be so hard for him. When he was a newborn in the intensive care, I used to sing 'You are my sunshine, my only sunshine, you make me happy when skies are gray Zack. You'll never know how much I love you.' Well, the skies have parted, the sunshine is here and he is going to be ok. He is going to figure it out. We will both be graduating next week.