The day you thought wouldn't come fast enough is here. That child who brought you up, down, around and over the edge is graduating. Oddly, your happiness is eclipsed by a force beyond your understanding -- melancholy.
Welcome to a parent and child perigee: A point at which you feel the closest to each other. It is precipitated by their next stop, whether it's college or a job, away from you. It hits you both as you prepare for their imminent takeoff.
Once the countdown has begun, there's no return from the "don't change a bit" yearbook signings, countless congratulatory cards, endless parties and your inevitable trip through the stages of loss: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.
Denial is easier for parents than it is for children. With years of practice under our belts, it's second nature. Whether it's paying for certain parts of their own college experience or that host of other bills they will try to pawn off on you as proof of your love, graduates do not fully comprehend their need to take ownership of their next experience to fully appreciate its value. Energized by Mark Twain's observation, "In order to make a man or a boy covet a thing, it is only necessary to make the thing difficult to obtain," parents can withstand the static of being in the "no."
Anger is the complex emotion you'll feel when that graduation gift you carefully selected to show your love and pride is compared to what so-and-so's parents got them that has a price tag that's out of this world, and makes your gift seem less than stellar in comparison. Rest assured that all you have done will be truly appreciated when your children become parents themselves.
Fear of your own limitations brings you to bargaining with your children to trade in their big party plans for a nice fat check instead, saving yourself a great deal of work getting it all together. Unfortunately, this is the one time they don't care about their "individuality" and want a party just like everyone else. The notion that people will bring gifts and cards stuffed with "tender" notes is a contributing factor to this conformity. Your quest for bargains for the tent, chairs, food, decorations and the rest of the party trimmings begins, but this big bang is likely to cost an arm and a leg.
It's time for takeoff and depression clouds your solo return trip home, when precious parenting moments flash before you, torturing you with thoughts of how much you will miss them. Take heart: They will finally enjoy your cooking and you will discover their bedroom space.
In between visits back home, it will actually stay clean for extended periods and eventually it will be added back into areas accessible to you. For their part, the children disguise their depression with faux embarrassment, forcing them to make a quick goodbyes and shove you out the door lest they break down in front of their new roommates and acquaintances.
Realizing that their world revolves around their child's wants and needs from a distance is an alien experience for parents. Acceptance of this reality is the last frontier. Once conquered, vast horizons open up to freely schedule appointments, lunches with friends, golf games, shopping trips and even vacations without checking in with master control.
As parents, we do our best to prepare our children for the road ahead, hoping they stay grounded, remember their training and never forget that we are always behind them. And please, phone home every day.