In the span of 16 hours I went through two otherwise innocuous moments involving my oldest teen, both of which left me in that bittersweet space that seems inevitable for parents as their children get closer to leaving the nest.
One night last week I attended the last hectic, mad-dash-around-the-building Meet-the-Teacher night for my son, a 17-year-old high school senior, and the next morning I made my way through possibly the last annual checkup for which I’ll be invited into the room. Nothing monumental happened at either event but both things made me acutely aware that my hands-on time with him is almost done. There will be college next year, and sure, he won’t magically do everything all on his own but the staking out of indepence will only increase–as it should.As I ran around the high school in an abbreviated version of my son’s daily schedule, part of the annual attempt to make sure teachers connect my kids to the face of someone totally invested in them, I saw lots of other children I remember meeting as my son and my 10th-grade daughter’s elementary school classmates. Seeing the growth of other people’s children really brings home the passage of time, sometimes more so than the changes in your own. I indulged in the hurried hugs and kisses with parents of those same kids, as we all said variations on the theme of “Can you believe we’re already here?” At the end of a long work day we were an army of exhausted parents wistfully looking at this pivitol time in our kids’ lives as one where we want to both clutch them close and help them take these big steps away from us.
In case no one else has mentioned this, parenting and loving teenagers is excruciating work, often as ugly and terrifying as it is exquisite and gratifying. The closer they get to adulthood the more you can simultaneously feel as though you’ve set them up as best you can and still be so worried about what’s to come. As I wrote this on a rainy, gloomy New York morning I found myself trying desperately not to solely think of all the lasts so solemnly…but to cherish them and look forward to the many wonderful firsts still to come, while trusting he is well equipped for it all.
Abby West is the Executive Editor of Essence.com. You can follow her on Twitter at @AbbyWestNYC and on Instagram at @Warsydmama.