*This is a post I wrote two years ago when my oldest son graduated from high school. My middle child graduates in a few weeks. I’m re-posting for all the mamas I’ve loved and commiserated with over the years!
I’m out of time. My son leaves for college soon. He thinks he’s ready, but I find myself lying in bed at 3 AM, staring at the clock on my bedside table, worrying about all the things I have forgotten to tell him, teach him, explain to him, or warn him about. Recently, I’ve jumped out of bed in the middle of the night and flown down the stairs to impart words of wisdom that simply cannot wait until dawn.
“Sweetie? Are you awake?” I ask, after tiptoeing into my son’s bedroom like a jewelry thief, looming over the side of the bed like a stalker fan, and poking him sharply in the side until he acknowledges my presence.
“Barely. What do you want this time, Mom?” he asks in a resigned voice, peeling back one eyelid, and staring at me bleary-eyed with fatigue.
“Promise me you will not accept any credit card offers, okay? Credit card companies prey on college kids. You could rack up thousands of dollars of debt!” I explain in an urgent tone of voice, gesticulating wildly with my hands to punctuate every word, increasing my volume and becoming more worked up with each second.
“Um. Okay, mom. I’ve got your card for emergencies, so we’re good,” he reassures me, rolling over so I have to move to the other side of the bed to maintain eye contact.
“You could end up with a bad credit score! You wouldn’t be able to buy your own home one day!” I warn, not fully convinced I have his undivided attention.
“Mom, could we worry about buying my first home later? I have a history test in four hours for HIGH SCHOOL. Okay?”
“Sure, sure! Go back to sleep, honey. I just thought since you were awake, we could talk,” I respond, a tad defensively.
A few minutes tick by. I remain frozen by my son’s bed, unable to move, my hands hovering over his body, which is now twice the size of my own, praying silently a sort of desperate litany to God, fate, Mother Nature, the lottery, and anything and anyone else who might listen.
“Are you going to stand there much longer, Mom?” my son asks in a dry voice, without opening his eyes, “’Cause I have to say it: you’re kind of creeping me out.”
“Nope! On my way upstairs right now!” I reply, a trifle huffily.
“Good deal. See you in the morning, Mom.”
“Loveyoutoo,” he mumbles in return.
Lately, every time we’re alone in an enclosed space—the kitchen, an elevator, the car–for more than five minutes, I find myself talking to my child in rapid-fire, staccato syntax as if I’m a drill sergeant, and I’ve been forced to send him to the front lines for hand-to-hand combat. I can’t seem to stop preaching mini-sermons, making dire predictions, or offering dangerous hypothetical scenarios for him to figure out while he’s still geographically close to me so we can talk through the options.
Like the sergeant, I feel it’s my job to keep this boy safe. I know how many dangers and temptations lurk just around the corner for him. Like all eighteen-year-olds, he is oblivious and thinks he is immortal. He’s poised on the starting block, grinning from ear-to-ear, out of his mind with excitement.
My heart races when I think of setting my child free, unchaperoned and curfew-less into the world. I feel like I’m throwing him off a pier into the deep end of the ocean with only his iPhone, a debit card, a high school diploma, and some monogrammed towels to help him on his way.
He’s bound to hit some white water. Everybody does. There are going to be treacherous currents, vicious undertow, barges that appear out of nowhere, hurricanes, whirlpools, sharks, and other predators. And that’s just the college years!
I’m worried about all the pitfalls I haven’t pointed out: pyramid schemes, cheating spouses, door-to-door solicitors, the importance of separating the whites and darks when he does laundry, and remembering to text his younger sister, the sibling who dreads being on the receiving end of my undivided attention.
I’ve covered everything I can think of: good grades, safe sex, binge drinking, illegal drugs, texting and driving, and the importance of choosing friends wisely. He’s going to make some whopping mistakes. I know that. I just don’t want them to be split-second decisions that result in eighteen years of child support payments or an interstate pile-up.
He’s heard it all before. He knows the lectures by heart, and he can repeat them with me in a singsong voice. Wear your seatbelt. Mind your manners. Take your vitamins. Don’t text and drive. Go to class. Do your homework. Write thank-you notes. Call your grandparents. Be a gentleman.
“I know, Mom, You’ve told me a thousand times already,” he says every time I open my mouth.
“Yeah,” I nod, fighting off a panic attack.
Is it enough? Does he hear my voice in his head? Will it cause him to pause, think twice, and reconsider before bungee jumping off a bridge on a college dare or eloping with the first girl he falls in love with?When my teenagers were babies, they were more afraid of me than God Almighty. That was a good thing. Back then, that was enough.
“You have to quit trying to cram everything into my head, Mom!” he begged me this week. “I’m going to college, not outer space. You’re going to see me again. I don’t have any money of my own.”
True. That’s one of my jobs as the mother of teenagers: I am a slightly overweight, farsighted, menopausal ATM machine. I am also a: short order cook, chauffeur, laundress, coach, nurse, tutor, psychiatrist, spiritual advisor, and social secretary. Parenting teenagers requires flexibility. You have to be able to clean up vomit, talk about condoms, cough up a small fortune in acne products, and love unconditionally and with fierce, illogical abandon. It also helps if you have a smart mouth and a sharp pen, in my experience. I have both in spades.