Suddenly I have so much to say to you. But it's never the right time anymore. Maybe it's that the time that remains feels ill-suited to deep conversation. There's so much planning and scheduling to do, so many decisions to make, from trivialities like senior photos and yearbook ads to what really matters: Where will you be (happiest) for the four years after high school is over?
So I have taken to emphasizing what I do say. On the way out the door to bike to campus for your summer class, you tell me that you aced the first quiz. "I'm proud of you!" I exclaim. You nod, and continue zipping up your backpack. "No," I say. You glance up, puzzled. "I want you to hear me: I am proud of you." What I mean is not that I'm proud of you because you did well on a test. I mean that I am proud of who you are now and who you are becoming. I think you understand, because you give me a half-smile and answer, "I know."
Every moment that passes, every exchange between us, feels exponentially more important than the one that came before. Is that because I sense that increasingly you are here in body but elsewhere in spirit? You have looked ahead, and you are liking what you see. I'm pleased for you. Your father and I, we joke a lot lately, ask you, "Aren't you going to miss us?" whenever something happens - it's usually at dinner - that has happened often enough to become family lore. We are established as a foursome - your father and I, you and your brother - and we react individually, in pairs, and as a group in well-worn ways, ways we can all predict but somehow cannot change, which makes it funny, really.
Once this summer in the car I asked you the question not as a joke but because I needed to know the real answer, which of course is not the real answer but only the one you imagine to be real. I am not naïve - what you think now is not necessarily what you will think when you are living it. But it's the best we have, short of a crystal ball. You replied, "No. I don't think I'll miss you very much." And then, conscious of hurting my feelings, you hedged. "That doesn't mean I'll be glad to go, just that I'm ready, and excited about being independent." I loved you for adding that part, but I would have been fine if you hadn't. I haven't forgotten that our main job as parents is to raise you to leave us, to raise you to be fully prepared to leave us. I'd much rather you not miss us at all than that you miss us too much.
They say that by the time you go off to college I will be ready to see you go, that you will behave so as to make our separating easier. So far I have not seen any evidence of that - you have not tested us much, but I suppose there's still time for that. Your father and I, we will miss you very much. When we ask about your missing us, we are really telling you that we will miss you, that we are already missing you. I think you understand that. You understand more than you let on.
There seems all the distance in the world between now and the day college acceptances will arrive in the mail, but in reality there are eight or nine months before things are settled one way or another. This is not an easy time for any of us. Even your brother is coming to terms with losing you. The other day when you were on campus, he asked when you'd be back, and when I told him that it would be hours yet he was disappointed. He wanted to hang out with you. I am not making this up.
I hadn't counted on how much I want to shout out to these schools who will be judging you how wonderful you are. How curious, how motivated, how interested in life, in history, in politics, in culture, in all of it. This makes you unsure about what you'll want to major in, and you think that's a negative. I disagree. Any college worth going to will respect that you want to take courses in so many disciplines. College was always supposed to be about figuring out which passion of yours separates itself from the others, wheat from chaff. If that's changed since I was at university, I don't want to hear about it.
A few years ago I expected to be more relaxed about your future than I've become. I figured that whatever school ended up wanting you would be by definition the right school. So many wonderful schools out there. But as decision time draws nearer, I find myself crazily protective of you and your spirit. I want to snap my fingers and have the world see how terrific you are, except that your personality, your uniqueness, is now more and more your job to convey - not mine. I am learning so much from you.
And I am proud of you. Did I mention that?
I love you.