Rick Roth doesn’t relate to parents who high five each other when their kids go away to camp—or to college.
We sat where we always did: front and center, four rows from the stage so we could have that perfect view of our son performing.
It was late May, and my wife and I were feeling rather sentimental. This was our youngest’s last high school concert, and to our disbelief it was also ours.
Where had the time gone? Just yesterday he’d been sitting next to us, watching first his sister, then his older brother, perform in some music or sporting event. Now we were watching him: our youngest, a senior in high school nearing graduation.
As we walked out of the auditorium, we saw our son standing with his closest friends, arm in arm, posing for parent photos. He came over to us, and we hugged as we always had after a concert, telling him how proud we were, how awesome he was. But we noticed he was having a bit of a tough time.
We asked if he was okay. He looked at us, holding back tears, and said, “I just can’t believe it’s over. It’s really sad.”
I looked at my son—proud he was comfortable showing his emotion in front of his friends. And I remembered the words I had said to my wife a few years earlier: “You’re lucky to be sad.” I looked at Rob again and reminded him, “You’ve had a special time. You’ve made so many good close friends. You are lucky to have had the kind of time that you will truly miss.” He nodded. He understood.
When it comes to family, my wife and I look at things a bit differently than other parents do. Over the years, when it was time to send our kids off to camp or college, there would be those who’d say, “Lucky you! You must be so relieved. You have your freedom!” We’d see parents high-fiving each other as the buses drove away with their children, several muttering to themselves, “Finally, they’re gone.”
We never understood them. We would drive home feeling a bit depressed. We’d wonder if we were strange to not see the separation as some parentally liberating event. We decided we weren’t strange at all, just lucky to have kids we preferred being with, children we would miss.
Three years before, our middle child, Will, walked through the processional as Mamaroneck High School celebrated its graduating seniors. It was a perfect day, and my wife and I were applauding, cheering, and then, as always, photographing Will and his friends as they left the high school field.
Our son was off to a graduation party and would meet us later. My wife and I sat in the car at the stop light, waiting to pull out of the parking lot. I remember the moment vividly with a lump in my throat. I looked over to my wife and she had tears in her eyes. “I’ll be okay,” she said. “I’m going to miss him so much. It’s just so sad. ”
That’s when I first had the thought, ”We are lucky to be sad.”
Okay, so my wife and I are a bit on the sappy side. But the truth is we have cherished our home life, watching our kids grow up, being a part of their lives. I suppose that if it hadn’t been so sweet, we’d be driving away from the school high-fiving each other.
Several years before Will’s graduation, I drove my daughter to college for the first time. Not just any college: my college. What a mix of emotions that was—reliving the times I’d had, sharing the stories on the long drive to Ithaca, hoping she wouldn’t do the things I’d done, wondering how I’d feel making the drive home alone.
We arrived, got through the orientations, met the roommate’s family, and helped set up the dorm room. Before I knew it, it was time to leave.
Jen walked me to the car. I looked her in the eyes, reminded her of all the fun she would have, all the care she needed to take, how much I loved her, and how much we would all miss her.
She walked away, joined her roommate, and proceeded down to the incoming freshman gathering. I stood by the car just watching her cross the field, years of memories rushing through my mind with disbelief that she was 18, with an ache in my stomach that she was really heading off on her own
I decided I would watch her until I lost her in the crowd and then head home. It was just at the moment I was about to turn, when she did too. Jennie stopped and turned from far across the quad. She put her hand up in the air and waved to me.
I will never forget that wave and, you know what, neither will she. To this day, we wave to each other every time we head off in different directions.
And every time I see that wave, I realize how lucky we’ve all been to have the times we’ve had and the close family we’ve become.
Next week our young Rob graduates from Mamaroneck High School, and before we know it we will be sending him off to college. We will be sad. But we will also know how truly lucky we are.
photo: justingallardo / flickr