In Other Words: For Andrew -- Scenes from the launch pad
Frivolity is in the air. My grandson, Andrew, is graduating from high school and going off to the college of his choice. For me, there is a sense of denial attached to this momentous milestone. What happened to the baby taking his first steps? The child navigating a two-wheeler? The kid tooling around with his driver's permit? The young man feeling his first tweak of heartbreak over some girl whose name has now faded into adolescent oblivion? This same boy, who, along with the class of 2015, will don the cap and gown as he makes his way down the aisle to collect the fruit of his labors: a diploma -- another "first" in a long line of new beginnings waiting to be explored.
And I, his grandmother, observing it all from a more secure perch am struck by the passage of years.
The expressions on the faces on these graduating seniors span a range of emotions: anticipatory, apprehensive, self-conscious -- all interspersed with a sense of surprise, jubilation and notable pride for their achievements. Feeling that inflated sense of bravado, they walk the walk with a kind of deliberate swagger reminiscent of high school seniors, past and present, about to be thrust into a less sheltered world -- that place we call "real life."
For now, however, that thought is put aside as excitement supersedes trepidation, when parents and relatives -- the cheering sections -- beam accordingly, while the first tug of separation looms on the horizon, and empty nest syndrome is no longer just a fantasy.
"Empty nest has the wrong connotation," my friend, Melissa Makris, says, "I think of it more as a launch pad" -- a thought that softens the hard edges of my unrest.
This time, though, the goodbyes are different. No temporary summer camp farewells, but the serious business of more permanent departures. We are releasing our charges into unchartered territories -- chaotic, scary places over which we have no control. The decisions they will ultimately make are now theirs to own as they are catapulted into a world where unpredictable events occur daily, a thought which raises emotional welts by its enormity.
For now, my attention is directed toward one graduate specifically: Andrew, who I watched expand through all the stages of his development leading up to this pivotal moment. I can say with unequivocal reluctance, I am not ready to let him go, though I surmise that Andrew and his peers are better equipped at handling the "going" than we are. These graduates -- explorers all -- are embarking on their personal journeys, while we, their parents and grandparents, have long ago settled into our respective lives.
My grandson, Andrew, is a great guy. He hasn't embarrassed us with too many flagrant displays of boyish misdemeanors. No tattoos or piercings adorn his body. He hasn't succumbed to an overabundance of experimental peer pressures, and aside from one attempt at jumping off a flat roof, and a slight altercation with a car, my equilibrium is still intact. Andrew stands 6 feet tall and towers over me.
"You're very small, grandma," he enjoys saying, as he lifts me from the floor in a bear hug maneuver, allowing him to revel in a brief moment of clumsy control.
I will miss those hugs and the rest of those impromptu acts of affection that he doles out as the mood strikes. Boys, after all, are not adept at mawkish displays of emotion, and I willingly accept what I can get. This small manifestation of our shared love -- a transitory twinkle in time -- will fill my memory bank for years to come.
One afternoon, on a recent visit, Andrew and I are sitting around discussing colleges. His interest is broadcast journalism, and he is exhilarated by the idea of his potential contribution to this field. I turn to him and say: "I'm so proud of you, Andrew," and suddenly, the gears shift. Hearing those words, he slinks down in his chair and, like a turtle withdrawing into his shell, Andrew suddenly seems childlike and small. He is not quite certain he deserves my praise, but he accepts it with a nonchalant grunt, that familiar sound I have come to treasure and will greatly miss.
And so, on graduation evening, as the procession of seniors gather on the green in preparation for their commencement, I will join the throngs of others, each in our own ways, making our personal adjustments, namely learning how to loosen the ties of parental control.
But the familial bonds are indelibly planted, and hopefully our kids will return -- reinvented versions of themselves, moving ahead as productive members of society, and parents themselves.
One day in some far-off distant future, Andrew, the man and the father, will be watching his own child make the long walk down the aisle toward his or her independence. For now, I wish for him a safe voyage without too many bumps along the way, and may those bear hugs remain forever a significant and integral part of our time-tested, cherished and irreplaceable connection.
Judith Marks-White is a Westport writer. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at www.judithmarks-white.com.