First I turn 57-½, and now I have a 23-year-old child. The numbers are racking up! What the heck is going on? Where has the time gone?! It reminds me of a time when I was in my mid to late twenties, working my first real job as a young government lawyer in Washington, D.C., and it suddenly dawned on me that I was no longer “right out of college.” That was the day I witnessed a group of young people who truly were “right out of college” disembark en masse from a bus. One look at these babies, and I was struck by the cold harsh reality that I was NO LONGER “right out of college.”
Now I see young moms at the YMCA carting their little boys and a part of me still identifies as close in age. Or at least closer than the “old ladies” in my exercise classes. Maybe I am just young at heart. Or immature. Or delusional.
In any event, today is my son’s 23rd birthday and, hard as it to wrap my brain around, I now have a child who is “right out of college.” And as I have found with most of my life as a parent, just when I get used to one phase, things change and I’m forced to adapt to a new one.
I am finding this “right out of college” parenting phase quite fascinating. My son is now completely independent from us. He has his own place to live, a car, a job, and a bank account. We try to talk to him once a week (if he has time) and we text often. But after years of controlling, then directing, then advising his actions, it is part unnerving, part deeply gratifying, to step back and watch him navigate life on his own. He still sometimes calls for advice, but his decisions are clearly his. And wise ones. It’s like finally nudging the baby bird out of the nest, taking a deep breath, and watching him soar.
There is freedom in not being responsible for him. And immense pride in the responsible, competent, unaffected adult he has become. My grandest joy, however, is the genuine love and affection my husband (his father) and I share with him. It is perhaps the greatest prize of parenting to raise a child that becomes a treasured adult companion.
My son currently lives halfway across the country from us, and although part of me wishes we were closer and more intertwined in his life, it oddly feels right to be physically removed from him. (I do remember being 23, and being glad my mother was not too close by.) At this phase of his life, he is truly coming into his own and this is his time to soar (especially since he is just starting flight training!) We love the excitement of getting updates on his life and marveling at his adventures from afar.
We also find it rather exhausting when he comes home to visit. We forget about the hours that “right out of college” aged people keep, and it always seems someone is coming or going in our house while he’s there. Much as we love the visit, and we are incredibly sad when he leaves, we also welcome the return of quiet and routine and appreciate the “empty nest” life we’ve grown accustomed to.
As with every other period of his life, I grieve the passing of each stage, since I’ve cherished them all, but I am eager to see what’s next. Like turning the pages of a captivating novel, I am excited to see how this story unfolds, without the pressure of being the author. In this tale, I’m proud of the hero, and am more than content being a supporting character. Happy birthday to my son who occasionally makes me feel old, but keeps me forever young.