I’ve been blogging for a lot of years. As in, since my second child, Rowyn, was a baby. I’ve written about the things God has whispered to my heart as I rocked my kids to sleep, as I took them to Story Time, as I watched my two little ones grow and become who they are. I’ve shared reflections on their birthdays and about the different seasons of life.
On my podcast intro, I say that I muse “at the crossroads of faith, family, and fiction.” Well, today we’re meandering a bit down that Family path. Because this weekend, my firstborn baby graduates from high school.
It’s something most families face, right? The age of Littles gives way to the age of Bigs, and then those kids do crazy things like get jobs and boy/girlfriends and start looking at colleges and planning out the rest of their lives. As in, the parts of their lives that will take them away from these four walls we’ve raised them in.
Cue all the emotions. The pride, the joy, the excitement…the disbelief, the sadness, the missing-them.
I remember many, many years ago I wrote on here about how to build independence in our kids, even as we hold them close. Because, I observed, the goal with kids isn’t to keep them kids forever. It’s to help them grow into adults. When I wrote that, I believe Xoe was, maybe, six. And here we are, on the cusp of legal adulthood, and I at once don’t know where the time went and can track its every drip through the hourglass. As the old saying goes, the days were long, but the years were short.
Xoe will graduate on Saturday with her homeschool group. She’ll stand in the front of a church with, I believe, 8-10 other seniors. She’ll receive her diploma. They’ll read the write-up we create, about all she’s accomplished and where she’s heading. As a homeschooler, she was competing with no one but herself. No valedictorians or salutatorians here. Nope. Just a handful of kids having accomplished what we, their families, set out for them to do.
There were some bumps in our road. Xoe has always been a perfectionist–she had to really teach herself over the years that it’s okay if she gets one answer wrong on a test. That it isn’t an indictment of her as a person. That blame doesn’t need to be cast. Even so, that doesn’t come easy. We’ve never stressed grades, but she stresses over grades. Which got a bit debilitating as ADHD dug its claws into her. She can’t focus, she can’t recall things much of the time, she can’t make herself sit and pay attention. That nearly tore my perfectionist daughter apart as the symptoms increased. But she sought help. She insisted on trying different things. She was honest and vulnerable about it. We tried diet, supplements, medication, and strict scheduling and found, eventually, what worked.
I’m so proud of her for that. For being so self-aware, for asking for help when she needed it. She worked harder for this diploma than I ever had to, and having seen the struggle, having witnessed the defeats and the victories, I have to blink back tears. She never let herself settle for “good enough.” She strove for excellence, even when it meant wrestling a bear out of the way each day.
She applied to two colleges and was accepted at both. Berea in Kentucky and St. John’s in Annapolis (where David and I went). Honestly, I expected her to choose Berea. On paper, it ticked all the boxed, even if it’s a 7-hour drive. I thought she’d enjoy the classes in art and English and writing. I thought that was the focus she wanted, and maybe some Asian studies too. Yet when we got back from that visit, her stress was through the roof. She was intimidated, she wasn’t convinced it was right for her, she saw all the things she didn’t want to do, and she didn’t know what to do about it.
So we visited St. John’s. Honestly, though she’d said since she was eight that that’s where she wanted to go, just like us, I thought she’d grow out of it. As ADHD made it harder for her to read, I thought she gave up on the dream of the college whose primary task is reading for four years–and some BORING stuff, too. I thought she applied mostly as a tip of the hat to that old dream. I didn’t think she really wanted it.
Then I saw her there. I saw the way she smiled, how excited she got about the classes and the intramural sports (she wants to take up sword-fighting!), how she connected with the other incoming students. I browsed with her through the bookstore as she decided which T-shirt she wanted. I saw how her eyes lit up when her welcome packet had an SJC window sticker in it. And in my heart, I knew. I knew that this was where she’d go.
Still, we made sure she thought about it long and hard. We had hours-long conversations. We discovered that if she went to Berea, she intended to try to recreate the SJC program by studying philosophy and history and religion–that she had no intention of taking classes on those other things. “Why?” her father asked her. “Because,” she replied, “I know I’ll learn that stuff, just because it interests me. I can do that on my own. It’s the other things I need direction on.”
That impressed me to no end. In part because it was the same thing I’d said at her age, though I never told her that. “Why should I go to a college that has a creative writing program?” I’d said. “I know how to write, or can learn what I don’t know. I need to learn what great books are. I need to learn how to think.”
When our Deadline for Decision Day arrived, I hailed her as she ran by in the morning and said, “So? Have you decided, or you do need the rest of the day?”
She replied, “I mean…I want to go to St. John’s. And it’s all your fault, you know. You raised me this way. How could I not love it?”
She has a point, LOL. (Though her brother shows no such inclinations, and I raised him the same way!) And it’s exciting, I admit, to have “a legacy Johnnie,” as the school calls second-generation students. But more than that–more than what it means to me–is what it means to her. It will stretch her. It will be difficult. There will be things she doesn’t like. But she’ll grow. She’ll meet new people. She’ll have amazing conversations. She’ll learn more about herself, about God, about the world, about humanity.
As a mom, I don’t really like thinking about the hole she’ll leave in our house when she goes. I mean, sure, I have plans to take over her desk and get out of the kitchen for my work while she’s away, but that certainly won’t make up for the absence of her delightful sarcasm, witty observations, and sweet nature. I will likely forget my phone every time I walk out the door, without her here to remind me to grab it.
But at the same time, I’m so excited for her. So excited to see what she discovers, who she meets, and what future begins to unfold before her. I know we’re standing in the same place in life that most families stand at some point. I know so, so many moms have felt this same jumble of emotions. And I take comfort in that, in knowing that others understand–or will understand in a few years. In knowing that this particular season of life is one familiar to so many.
It wasn’t all that long ago that my author bio said “she homeschools her two small children.” Xoe was the one who told me when it was time to take out that “small” bit, LOL. And now I’ll have to tweak it again. She’ll be flying out of my nest, though she’ll come back plenty. I’ll be down to one homeschooled teen. Then he’ll be off too, out discovering his own life. Am I ready? Um…LOL. In a way, of course not. But you know, in another way, yes. Because I can’t wait to see how they keep on growing, stretching their wings, and exploring. I can’t wait to see where they go.
Onward and upward, class of 2023. The whole world awaits.