‘Come in,” a deep, low voice mumbled from behind the closed bedroom door and I turned the knob and slowly pushed it open to reveal my first born, now a teenage man child, propped against pillows and watching television, a computer on his lap.
It was evening, the beginning of the end of another day.
“You okay?” I asked, having not seen him since that morning before school and wanting to make sure all my chickens were safe and healthy and happy under one roof.
“Yes, ma’am. I’m good,” he said and looked up and smiled that half smile, the one that gives me just enough to be satisfied that he is truly fine, but not so exuberant or under enthused to encourage me to press for more conversation. It is an art form he has perfected, I have decided. I smiled back.
“I love you,” I said and as I slowly closed the door I heard him say, “Love you, too.” Everyone was where they were supposed to be, safe and sound and healthy and happy.
My walk back down the stairs was slower than usual. Something was different, and I didn’t realize until I reached the bottom step what it was. I won’t be knocking on that door much longer.
Our baby boy will be gone soon.
I don’t know if he minds it when I call him baby boy. He’s never told me so, at least not in the last few years. There was a time, though, when he asked me not to call him sweetie. He was 10 years old, or maybe 12. Every morning I would drop him and his sister off at school. “Have a good day, sweetie,” I would say and sometimes there would be other people around. “Can you not do that, call me sweetie?” he looked up at me and asked and I obliged as much I could, but sometimes I slipped and it just came out but he didn’t seem to mind it every now and then.
It’s me who looks up to him now, in more ways that one.
Each time I look up into his face I marvel with indescribable pride at the man he has become, tall and strong and handsome with a mind like none I have ever known and the quiet, keen wit of a thinker, hilarious and sharp. He is an old soul, compassionate and practical and hopeful and dedicated, with a heart that is kind and pure.
Today is graduation day. This afternoon he will walk across the stage, wearing the navy blue gown that has been hanging on the dresser in our room for over a month. Every day I have looked at it hanging there, not allowing myself to truly think about what it means. But today I will take it down and hand it to him, and the next time his dad and his sister and I see him he will be with his childhood friends, walking down the aisle, wearing that same gown draped with his hard earned cords and his hat and his tassels ... and a smile. Not a half smile, I imagine.
A whole one this time.
And despite what my tears may imply, I will know that he’s okay — not just at the beginning of the end of this extraordinary day, but from this day forward.
We love you and are proud of you more than any words can ever describe, baby boy.
Forever and always.
Contact columnist Mandy Flynn at firstname.lastname@example.org.