Posted by Nancy Northcott May 26 2011, 4:13 am in graduation, parents and children, rites of passage
On the surface, this looks like every other summer vacation. The boy finished school last week and is now upstairs noodling on his guitar, I’m on the computer writing this blog, and the dh is at school, most likely in a meeting. But it isn’t like every other summer vacation. Under that placid surface, a seismic shift has occurred.
The boy graduated from high school. He “finished” it in the truest sense of the word.
Many of you have seen your children take that walk across the stage, some of you more than once. You know what it’s like. His father and I are coming to terms with the fact that 13 years of dropping him off, picking him up, and packing his lunch are over.
The school calendar has come off the refrigerator instead of staying there until I replace it with the new one in August. The university calendar doesn’t have a list of parent conferences, short days, long weekends, or other things we need to pay attention to. So there’s a big, blank spot on the freezer compartment door. I’ll rearrange the magnets and and fill the space, of course. Just not quite yet.
Come August, we won’t just be checking to be sure his calculator still works and he has clothes that fit and his backpack and lunchbox are still holding up. We’ll also be buying sheets and towels and boxing his stuff and packing the car. The backpack will go with him. The lunchbox will not. He has carried it since middle school, so it owes him no service, but not seeing it in the kitchen every night will seem strange.
This past Mothers Day and my most recent birthday are the last ones for which the boy will be home. Next year, we won’t be able to decide, in a leisurely way, which movie and which showing we’re going to see as a celebration and then roll out to do it. Not with the boy far, far away preparing for the end of his semester. The dh and I can pick a movie, of course, and likely will, but it won’t be the same.
The guys usually get me flowers for Mothers Day. The boy picks and the dh pays. This was the last time for that, too. Mothers Day without the boy? Not to be contemplated. Yet I have to wrap my head around it. Much as we’ll miss him, we wouldn’t hold him back for the world.
There’s a popular poster that says the two things parents should give their children are roots and wings. The dh and I are about to see how well we did with that.
When the boy was just a baby, he loved country music on the old Nashville Network. That was the year Alan Jackson’s “Chattahoochie” was a mega-hit. No matter how sleepy the boy was, the first few bars of that song made his eyelids pop open as though they were spring-loaded.
We danced with him in front of the TV and bought the CD. His fascination with the song extended into toddlerhood though his musical tastes have since changed.
When he was not quite two, we were in a Waldenbooks one night, and the boy was motoring down the aisle by the magazines in that lurching gait toddlers use. Suddenly, he slammed on the brakes. He squatted on his haunches to peer at the music magazines on the bottom rack. One magazine bore Alan Jackson’s picture on the cover. “Aljack,” the boy announced in that clear, piping voice common to small children. Then he gave a quick nod, as though satisfied with this statement, straightened his little legs, and motored on.
The span of time between that moment and this seems less than a heartbeat, but the munchkin who used to hug me around the knees is taller than I am now, and his voice has dropped to the basement.
His graduation has made me remember my own and reminded me of a photo my father took that night. Daddy supported everything we did. He volunteered for the Girl Scouts and the church youth organization and the marching band boosters. But he was not Ward Cleaver. He treated conversations with emotional overtones much as he might have treated the bubonic plague, as something to be avoided if at all possible.
As I walked up the aisle with my high school diploma in hand, Daddy stepped out to take a picture. It didn’t turn out very well by most standards. It was at a crazy angle, and the only part of me that was visible was my face, down in the lower right corner. But it spoke volumes about his feelings at that moment, and so I cherish it.
As the boy’s school orchestra played the first bars of “Pomp and Circumstance” and the seniors marched toward us in their caps and gowns, my throat closed. My eyes stung and glazed. I was very much in danger of becoming what our Regency fans would describe as “a watering pot.” But I managed to push the sentiment back because I wanted to watch our son during every moment of this wonderful occasion that marked the end of his childhood.
I knew then how my father felt on that long-ago night. What went around has come around. As the late, great Harry Chapin said, “all my life’s a circle,” and that circle in my life, from me to the boy and my parents to me, is now complete. I wish they had lived to see him walk across the stage looking so very grown up.
I’ve bought the “Chattahoochie” video for my iPad, to pull the memories close when the boy is so far away.
Do you have graduations or other big occasions in your family this year? What was a watershed moment in your life? How did you feel, and what were you thinking about?
Posted by Nancy Northcott Aug 26 2010, 4:31 am in Dragon*Con, family trips, Jo Beverley, rites of passage
In just a week, we’ll load up the car, drive to Atlanta, and enthusiastically dive into the myriad aspects of DragonCon as a family unit. A year from next week, we’ll load up the car, drive somewhere we don’t yet know, and take the boy to college, dividing our family unit as he steps into adulthood. In between, there’ll be a lot of “last” events for the three of us.
This is the first in a series of blogs about the transitions on the horizon.
I’ve been going to DragonCon regularly for quite a few years. I always knew the boy would love it. He’s like me in his devotion to imagination and fantasy and possibility, although his particular interests and mine don’t overlap much. Until a few years ago, however, the dh’s job didn’t allow him to come, and the boy was too young to set lose among 40,000 strangers on his own. So I went alone to volunteer in the excellent Writer Track GRW’s Nancy Knight directs and poke about in the other panels. Then the dh’s job changed, and we made DragonCon an annual family trip.
The boy took to it like the proverbial duck to water, as I’d expected. It’s not really the dh’s scene, all those people walking around in costumes and carrying mock (or real but peace-bonded) weapons. He says he goes in part for the YA lit and writer tracks and in part to watch the boy and me enjoy ourselves.
That first year, he or I walked the boy to whatever panels he wanted to attend and then met him afterward, but the next year, we cut him loose. Now he has buddies he joins at the con (short for convention), and we don’t see him much.
The fannish term for someone who’s not into fandom is “mundane.” The dh is a mundane and proud of it, but he’ll stand on the curb with me and watch the costumed contingents–super-heroes, Star Trek characters, pirates, ninjas, anime characters, Hogwarts students, Pernese dragonriders, elves, Stargate personnel, Jedi, Sith Lords, Stormtroopers (the 501st Legion always has a big turnout), Rebel Alliance and Imperial military, Dunedain, wizards, fairies, Spartans, Rohirrim, and pretty much any other kind of fantastic being you might imagine–march down Peachtree Street.
In the anime section next Saturday–for the last time–will be the boy and the two friends he met at DragonCon, one of whom became (and still is) his girlfriend. We’ll cheer and wave when they march by, and I’ll try to get a good photo. The boy has two costumes of anime characters he likes, and he alternates them during the con. I don’t yet know which one he’ll wear that day.
The people who roam in costume–cosplayers, they’re called–were a huge hit with him. We walked out of an exhibit hall one day that first year, and someone called out to him using the name of his character. When we turned toward the sound, there stood a group of people dressed as characters from the same show as he was. He joined them with a big grin on his face, and I proved how useful mothers could be by taking group photos with various cameras.
Taking photos of costumes is common at DragonCon. Asking to take one is a compliment, and people are usually happy to oblige. The boy met his girlfriend when she called out to stop him because she wanted to photograph his costume.
Another hit for us that first year was a demonstration, which the boy and I attended together, of bladed weaponry combat by the late Hank Reinhardt and his students. Hank had a dry, sarcastic wit that made people forget he was actually teaching them something, and he knew a very great deal about swords and their use.
I found his workshops extremely helpful for research. He was always willing to answer questions and let people handle any weapons he’d brought. That year marked his return to the con after a long absence. Unfortunately, he died not long after that. I’ve always been glad the boy and I shared that hour.
The con runs closed circuit television (DragonCon TV–yes, really) in all the hotels. Programming includes panels that were hard to get into, the costume contest, and whatever else the con staff wants to include. A staple is the programming segment known as bumpers–jokes that appear on the screen in dialogue format, humorous videos, etc. There are always new ones, and we all love them. Even the ones that really, truly, are groaners.
If you decide to try the link, scroll down until you get to “Regencies and Revenants” and watch that one. (And if you have a lot of time, click on the “bumpers” link on that page and indulge.) We enjoy starting and ending our days with humor. Even if it’s not all as clever as it wants to be, a lot of it is wicked smart.
So we’ll head to Atlanta next week, hurry from one panel or reading or demonstration to the next, roam the exhibit halls, amuse ourselves with DragonCon TV at bedtime and in the morning, and maybe even have the occasional meal together. On the surface, this con weekend will be like the ones before it, busy and fun and sometimes chaotic. But always hovering in some corner of my mind will be the knowledge that this is the last one, a moment especially important to savor before our fledgling flies.
What event kicked off a year of lasts for your family? What did you do (or wish you had done) to commemorate the occasion? What was a highlight of your last year in the nest?
Another package of three books from the RWA conference goes to one commenter.