My heart is full.
My son Stephen will turn 23 on the 24th of April. I was 23 when I labored for days before giving birth to him 8 days past his due date. This will be the only time in our lives that I will be exactly twice his age and though I have time, experience and a bit of wisdom on my side, he has intelligence, drive, a passion to live his life to the fullest, and on May 15th, his college degree. I am so proud.
When he graduated from high school, I was overwhelmed with emotion. I knew that our life, our day to day family life, would never be the same.
It truly seems like yesterday that we took him to the University of Oklahoma and moved him into the dorm. It was a hot, hot August day, and boy’s dorms smell like, well, boys. After leaving him to get settled into that new chapter of his life, I cried the ENTIRE way home – the UGLY cry.
The following letter is what I wrote and read to Stephen the night he graduated from high school. For his college graduation gift I think I’m going to give him something a bit less emotional – luggage perhaps. At least it won’t make me cry…
I just finished pressing and steaming your graduation gown that you will wear in just a few short days. It’s been hanging in your closet for a few weeks now, but every time I attempt to retrieve it so that I can iron it, I am unable to force myself to open the door. You may think that it’s the mess of your room that scares me, that keeps me from opening the door. And although that may be true the majority of the time; I hardly noticed the clutter today. Today I am focused. Today I have one of those motherly jobs to do; to get you, my son, ready for graduation.
As I stood over the ironing board, pressing your gown, I began to reminisce. I remembered your first day of school and how excited you were, so eager to learn, to take that step that says “I’m a big boy now.” You had picked out your clothes days in advance, wanting me to iron them so that you would look good for your new teacher. I combed your hair, washed your face and sent you off to spend your days learning your ABC’s and making new friends. I didn’t realize at the time what a journey I was sending you out on, or how quickly the next twelve years would pass.
Over the course of your school years, that journey brought much laughter and excitement to our home. Ours was the home where the ball teams congregated after a game, the home where the neighborhood kids showed up all hours of the day during the long days of summer, and your room became the hub of adventure. From building army forts out of cardboard boxes to exploring every nook and cranny of the woods near our home, you never tired of learning and creating. Even becoming a teenager didn’t stop your adventures, or the flow of your friends traipsing through our house. Now that you were older, your ventures stretched to campouts, first in the safety of our back yard, then to the rivers and lakes around us, your longing to sleep under the stars consuming you.
High school brought girls into the picture, along with proms and dates, and sometimes broken hearts. It brought cars and jobs and curfews. You could iron your own clothes by now, but still relied on me to press out the wrinkles in your life. Your room became a breeding ground for making memories, as you and your friends filled our home with laughter, sharing your stories of adventure with us. But your thirst for life never dimmed; your motto to live it to the fullest, without limitations.
And now you’re starting the next phase in your journey. There is no more time to spend instilling values in you. No more time to encourage you to make the right decisions. No more time to set the example. If I haven’t given you the tools to lead a successful life by now, it’s probably too late. Time will tell if I’ve taught you everything you need to know to be a productive member of our society.
Only now do I realize that raising you was not a dress rehearsal, I don’t get a second chance, no do-overs. This is it.
Your cap and gown are ready, hanging on your door, symbolizing the end of one stage of your life and the beginning of the next. No wrinkles for now. When you put it on in a few days, you should know that eighteen years of joy and reflection, hope and expectation, along with your mother’s tears, have been pressed into the fabric of this robe and the fabric of your life that will cover you as you walk away from me and toward your future.
Wear it well, son, wear it well.