My son graduated from high school one week ago and I am remain awestruck by the passage of time, the morphing of our family dynamics, the possibilities that lie ahead of him.
We all say it: Where did the time go? It doesn’t seem like twelve years since I snapped this photo of him, standing at the ready for his first day of first grade. We were still living with the kids’ father then; I was still married, but just barely. Our trio moved out just two weeks later. But you can’t see the stress of it on his face and that eases my mother-guilt, the worry that resides with me always, telling me that somehow I’m messing the kids up. He seems happy, though. Blissfully unaware that the Saturday after next, he’ll leave his father’s house and never sleep there again. He has no idea that his days with his father will become fewer and further between until the point that it will be weeks, then months and now years between visits. He’s so excited for the adventure of school. There’s no stopping the happy vibe emanating from him. It’s freakin’ adorable.
Through the school years, it’s been just us–a trio trying to figure out life. The kids have grown, gotten smarter, gone on adventures abroad and have become real people. My son is a full-on adult now and one that I think I’d enjoy hanging out with, even if he weren’t mine. He’s a fantastic guy, really.
As I watched him walk across the stage at graduation, after his teacher spent five minutes bragging about him, our friend Michael leaned over and whispered, “You made him.”
I’m not sure how much of it was me, but I’m so proud and so grateful that he has reached this point of adulthood without succumbing to the horrid statistics that have haunted my years as a single mother. High suicide, drug and alcohol abuse, tobacco use and teen pregnancy rates have frightened me every step of the way. Children raised by single mothers, particularly those without any father-figure, have a much higher risk for all of the issues, these problems that can sidetrack a life. But he’s made it this far and I think (I pray) he stays on the course he’s followed so far.
When I’d first started debating divorce, the summer before he started first grade, the statistics had scared me into staying a little longer in the marriage, afraid of what-may-come. The situation at home worsened though and all the things that I feared for him started coming into our family: smoking, drunken nights, drugs stashed around the house. I knew he fared no better chances there with an “intact, two-parent family” than in a “broken home.”
I hate that term, broken. Sure, at the time, it felt like everything was breaking apart, but we aren’t a broken family. My kids aren’t living in a broken home. We have each other and there is love and security and support.
My worries about the what-ifs, the stories of criminals from single parent homes, the suicide attempts of fatherless children–all those worries have proved to be naught thus far. And while I know I will continue to harbor fears, I’m full of more hope than fright these days. He’s one of the most empathetic people I know. He’s following his passion in photography and looking at life from a perspective that I didn’t have until I was twice his age.
The world is big and full of opportunity. He’s chasing after it and I couldn’t be more thrilled for him. I’m still a little worried though.
His sister still has five years until she graduates and I feel like there’s more to worry about with her–teaching her self-respect and courage while warning her that her XY inevitably makes her prone to dismissal, objectification and rudeness from others. It’s a tough road being a teenage girl. That, I remember.
So far, she’s been protected by her brother more often than not, but as he grows up and away from us, our trio is becoming a duo and I can’t be there for her like he has been–at school, on the bus. She’ll be on her own much more next school year and I wonder just how that will work. What will it be like to have a son doing his own thing (living with us? living on his own?) and a daughter who has become a (seemingly) only child?
I wonder and worry about the changes that will come for all of us at this change, but mostly I’m trying to hold on tight to the hope that my son’s life will be better, easier and happier than he’s had thus far.