The blue and white school colors shined through the clear plastic wrapped package, a happy tassel pressed to the corner of the bag. Sighing with the bittersweet understanding that my oldest boy is actually graduating, I walked the parcel up the stairs and placed it unopened on his bed, where it will sit until his return home next week from a visit to his girlfriend and her family up in New Hampshire.
He face-timed me from there earlier – something no one over fifty should agree to – and seeing his face on the line, something I had been missing and yet hadn’t even realized how much, made me forget my vanity and just smile with glee. He is so gorgeous, I thought, and… changed. Although how could that be? He had only been gone a week. Yet, there was something different about him.
I studied the expression on his face as he talked about kayaking, hiking and working on their farm. He showed off his girlfriend and her sister’s artwork, while the girls peeked merrily in and out of my view. Is this the little boy I carried? The one I desperately wanted, even more so when at the time it seemed like he might never be. Two years we tried. Two years I went through the tumultuous and tortuous ups and downs of hormones and hope. The disappointment on the stick. The plastered smile in the fertility doctor’s office when she talked about next steps. Month after miserable month seeing red. It’s devastating to realize it might never happen, but it’s worse when you keep thinking it might.
But then, wonder of wonder, miracles of miracles, you. From just the slightest flutter in my belly to six pounds of life altering perfection. No longer did anything I ever thought mattered matter. No longer could I be anywhere but with you. I couldn’t go back to work or leave you for more than the shortest amount of time. I wouldn’t even allow a bottle because I wanted to be the only one you needed. It was a selfish and instinctive. You were my baby and you were all mine.
But I can see right now, how far away we are from those days. A girl now rests her head on your shoulder. You automatically smile and, a few minutes later, unconsciously rest your head on hers. She is lovely and bright, and right now, you are hers. I see that for the first time and it is a surreal realization.
I have had my time at the center of your universe, but you are now a young man and your eyes are looking forward while mine are looking back, held captive to that little boy you once were. I still feel the pain from the day you said I could bag up almost all the stuffed toys that you loved, and when you stopped looking for me to come into your room to say goodnight, and the day you forgot about the promise you made when you were seven to never leave me and announced that once you left for college that you would probably never live here again.
A melancholy seeps into my bones, clouding my head and my heart. I can’t help it, there is a struggle within me letting go of the boy you once were and fully embracing the seventeen-year-old you are now. But I need to. And I want to. You have matured into the most amazing human, independent and strong, intellectually curious, and full of adventure. You are so interesting and different. Kind and funny. You are even more than everything I could have hoped you would become. I just never expected it to happen so fast, for those little wings to have grown so strong. But of course, I did expect it. I’ve seen the changes, day after day, month after month, year after year. My seedling turned overnight to a sunflower. Sunrise. Sunset.
You and your girlfriend fill the phone screen and you are both so casually comfortable, so charming and beautiful. I am taken aback because it’s all so new to me, this new you, this adult you, this you filled with love.
There are all these glimpses of a man who I haven’t really met and I am just beginning to learn about. Softer, more open and relaxed. A thousand new dimensions shine in you like cuts in a brilliant diamond; this new the tilt of your head, the amused lift in your smile, the delighted and proud twinkle in your eyes.
Soon you will be back home. You will sleep in your own room, filled with your special things. I’ll make favorite meals and pull out secret boxes of junky cereal. We’ll walk the dog and talk, and at some point, we will open the bag on your bed.
So handsome in your cap and gown, you will take part in the socially distanced graduation ceremony that your school has devised, a car parade leading to an outdoor podium. When it is your turn, you will step from the car, crammed with me, your father and brothers, and walk up the newly built platform to receive your diploma. We will hang out the windows, scream, clap and take pictures, and I will cry, definitely too much, because this is it. You are at the threshold, and once you walk down the other side you will have officially left your old life behind and be starting a beautiful new one.
In fact, from the view on the other side of the lens, I know it has already begun and I am both overjoyed and overwhelmed. I can only hope that occasionally the long and winding road ahead, filled with a million new experiences and adventures, also leads you back home, to your biggest fan, your mom, who will be watching and cheering herself hoarse from the sidelines, on her feet with excitement, her whole self, bursting with pride and love; who doesn’t want to let you go, but also can’t wait to see where you wind up.
Here you stand, my baby boy who is also now a beautiful young man. Fly.