Happy Graduation, Best Baby Boy

I was sure I was having a girl. That’s all we ever had in my family–girls.

Turned out, he was the best baby boy in the world. I sang a made-up song to him to that effect. And I took him everywhere with me–to publishing clients, to editorial offices, to typesetting shops. He was the sidekick on my hip, the white-blond, curly-haired boy who smiled at anyone who smiled at him.

He was my best boy.

He was brilliant, of course. I just knew he was. He loved to learn everything and anything. When he had a day off from nursery school, he cried.

When he started “real” school, however, the smile faded somewhat and was replaced more often than not with an unwavering look of concentration. “Who is this kid?” the kindergarten teachers asked. He is so intense. What gives?

But we moved, and we never found out what gave. Because he continued to do very well in grade school. But he became less and less happy in middle school. Less able to give his intense all to any of it.

And as I became more ensconced in my career as a writer, and then took up a sideline teaching teenagers far older than my boy, he came to me at midnight one school night, when I was grading papers, and said, “I can’t go to the high school everyone else is going to.”

When your 14 -year-old says he can’t go to the public school where all his friends are going, you listen. And you try to hear as much as you can between all the lines your kid is feeding you. Because this is just that serious.

Thus, in April eight years ago, when all the worthy private schools you can’t afford have sent out their acceptance letters, when all possibility of making a drastic change such as this is certainly over, a casually dropped name of a consultant who “might help” lands in your email, and she has an appointment open next week, and many tests and many talks later, a fantastic school that costs a fortune is recommended–except they are full.

And then it is July, and your very bright kid clears a wait list you really didn’t know he was on, and his life begins again. And you figure, what better way to use the money saved for college than on high school tuition?

High school was no cake walk, but it was the best it could be–decent-enough grades, predictable acting out, learning to drive–and all the other first-born teenager stuff that causes a mother to finally use such original phrases as, “You just wait ’till you’re a parent!”–probably on the night the arbitrary curfew seemed moot.

And then, in a fleeting second, high school was over, and this beautiful baby boy, along with his stressed and likely too-strict parents, emerged semi-unscathed, and he was accepted into a Midwest university I confess I had never heard of until we visited it for the “Accepted Students” reception. I kind of wanted to run screaming from the place. It was full of nice people–really nice–for sure, but what was with the high quota of popped-collars? Did everyone press their jeans? What gives here? I wondered.

But my son liked it enough, because, as he pointed out, they had unlimited all-you-can-eat buffets on the meal plan, and freshmen who lived more than 250 miles away could have a car that they could park in a lot roughly a mile off campus. Never mind that my boy didn’t have a car. These were the things that mattered to him at that moment in April, four years ago.

It was also the last college we visited, and he was tired of trying to make up his mind about where to land. In the end, this was the last place that made a lasting enough impression to make him sign the “accepted” letter.

We all cried the day we moved him into his miniscule dorm room and left him to fend for himself with a subsequent lineup of roommates who would have made great fodder for a TV sit-com, but who were the bane of my boy’s first taste of life on his own. One by one, they left or were asked to leave, and by second semester, the miniscule double was finally a single in which he set up a mini ping-pong table, which prompted new friends to stop by.

“Mom, you should know the pictures in the catalog lie about this place,” he told me on my first visit that dreary day in November. “The sun goes away in the second week in September. I don’t think it comes out again until next July.” In a way, he wasn’t all that wrong. Ohio winters suck. Really suck. Socially, all was okay. Not perfect, but okay. Go Greek? Nah. Change his major? Sure–how about three times?

And still, he wanted to stay at this university, and we and he continued to take out the loans to keep him there–fall into spring, spring into summer. Because, it turned out, he was learning to love this university–to love the professors and a major plus a minor that had nothing whatsoever to do with what he’d started out studying two years before.

His dad and I were falling in love with the school, too, and we looked forward to every visit whenever my boy invited us. His dad and I usually visited separately, job demands being what they were, are. I got every two months and the Fourth of July. Mr. Restaurant Gal got the other odd month and Easter. Every year, however, we wondered aloud to our boy, “Can you still do this in four years?”

Moving off campus helped, because the town is simply an extension of the university, and it is loaded with crazy-named group houses and apartments. My boy learned to cook quite well and how to brew a decent-enough beer, which has prompted a few to ask if he’d consider that as a profession. He is, thanks to one professor, becoming more than knowledgeable about wine. Which goes hand-in-hand with his job as a university private-events banquet server. Go figure.

His grades steadily improved, as did his interest in scary-sounding science and land-use law classes. He was awarded a competitive grant that garnered him a stipend and almost a semester’s worth of credits over one summer. “No one else wanted it,” he said in his understated, self-depricating way. “So they gave the grant to me.” But I heard differently from a professor’s sister who just happened to have been my first editor at my first job out of college. Funny how life harnesses your past to meld with a loved one’s future. And you can’t even believe the coincidence, the utter unlikeliness of it all.

And now, my beautiful baby boy has a beautiful girlfriend whom I suspect he is not ready to leave behind, even as he graduates and she has one more year to toil in computer labs and library cubicles. He is likely graduating with a grade-point average he could only have dreamed of attaining as a high school student. Because, in these years at a university that demanded his best, he has discovered what it is to become a student who loves learning for the simple love of learning it all.

Who would have thought? Who could have known? And yet, somewhere, somehow, all along, through all the angst and ups and downs, I now know he thought it; he knew it.

On the almost-eve of his graduation from college this weekend, when it would be so easy to write about the time flying by and how could I be old enough to have a kid this old and all the rest of the stale cliches, I find myself only wanting to share my love for this boy.

Some might ask: But how could you, would you, be so public about your own child–on your blog, of all places?

Because my pride for my boy knows no limits, and I want the whole world to know it.






24 responses to “Happy Graduation, Best Baby Boy”

  1. cazza Avatar

    Beautifully written. As a mother with boys of a similar age it brought tears to my eyes.

    What does he plan to do now? We never stop worrying about them, do we?!

  2. Ax Avatar

    Terrific story! When I got to the second sentence, I thought “yet another brag story” and was going to stop reading, but for some reason I didn’t stop. And I just couldn’t stop.

    Wonderful writing, RG!

  3. AEL Avatar

    Beautiful post. I’ve been reading your blog since the fall but have never commented. At the moment I’m living away from home and odd as it may sound, have found comfort in reading in your blog. The warmth of your writing and your love for your family and dedication to your job are inspiring. I look forward to reading more.

  4. restaurant Gal Avatar

    Cazza–No clue, no worries. Thanks for commenting.

    Ax–Yeah, it’s still a brag story. Glad you kept reading and liked it.

    AEL–Thank you for taking time to share such a lovely thought. Enjoy your adventure away from home.

  5. Kris Avatar

    As the mother of best baby boy myself – who is currently a freshman in high school and causing me to contribute largely to Loreal to cover the gray – thank you. I needed a glimmer of hope that we’ll get through this ordeal not only intact, but with a return to the glowing pride that came with his birth.

    Congratulations, Gal, for making it through with such a fine young man.

  6. Julie Avatar

    You reminded of my own college graduation — the dinner with my dad and stepmom the night before followed by a little barhopping with friends. The long commencement ceremony and the happiness and relief that was so apparent on my mom’s face. Grandma was just proud. I think Dad was a little relieved, too. My stepmom just enjoyed my big day.

    I can remember the party that night like it was yesterday. We had rented the balcony of our favorite club so we had a home-base for all of our friends and family. I remember my grandma exclaiming that she really liked her Long Island Iced Tea, but it didn’t taste like there was much alcohol in it. I remember my dad joining all of us crazy college students on the dance floor and having the time of his life. I also remember the $20 bills he kept handing me for taxis in case our designated drivers weren’t following the soda-only rule. They did. I bought breakfast for us the next morning with Dad’s contribution.

    It may have been my graduation, but everyone in my family had a part of it. My grandma would send me a little note with a few dollars inside throughout my time away and she helped financially my last year. Mom got those late night phone calls when I was about to crack from the stress of having too many tests/papers/projects. I spent weekends just sleeping and recovering from midterms at my dad and stepmom’s.

    It seems like yesterday when I wore that cap and gown. It’s hard to believe that it’s been 16 years.

    Congratulations to your son (and his family).

  7. Jennifer Avatar

    If you don’t stop making me cry first thing in the morning, I’m going to have to stop reading your blog.

    My beautiful baby boy is indeed still a baby, and you’ve given me a vision of the future I’m definitely not ready for: sending him out on his own. NOOOOO!!!!!!!!

    Thank you for another beautiful post. 😉

  8. Glenn Avatar

    Great Post. As a high school teacher I would hope all of my students become lovers of learning simply for the learning……..not all there yet, but I do continue to hope. Congrats to your son.

  9. Kim Ayres Avatar

    If you can’t write about pride and love for your son on your own blog, where can you write it? And of course you write it so well that I’m now beaming with pride for him and I’ve never met him 🙂

  10. Brave Astronaut Avatar

    I had the opportunity to be a judge at National History Day events in DC this past Saturday. I judged the documentaries created by sixth and seventh graders. I spent a fair amount of the time looking at these kids and scared to death that my two-year old son is going to be that old one day.

    Thanks, now I have to worry about college, too. But then again, we all seem to manage don’t we? It seems like you have done an incredible job and you should be very proud. As my wife likes to say, if you think you want kids, have them. It is stories like yours (a veteran of the parental fight) that make me feel a little better about my work up to now and how I will do in the future.

  11. Raven Avatar

    That is such a sweet posting. It’s your blog…boast away as much as you want. As a mother it’s your right!

  12. Cheryl in DC Avatar
    Cheryl in DC

    What a beautiful story. What a joy to hear of a student who comes out of college with a love of learning and of life.

  13. zack Avatar

    excellent!!! congrats!!!

  14. Lydia Avatar

    Hello, I’m graduating this year as well, and this post from a parent’s perspective was extremely moving. Congratulations to your son. =)

  15. sheri Avatar

    Sweet post =)
    Congrats to him, and to you for raising a great kid.

  16. Shannon Avatar

    As a student in a similar Midwest college, where it snows the first week of October until the second week of April, I can only hope that two years from tomorrow, my mom will be as proud and loving as you!

    Beautiful post, thank you.

  17. restaurant Gal Avatar

    Lydia–Congrats to you!

    Shannon–She already is, I would bet on it.

  18. María José Avatar
    María José

    ive been reading you for a while now, this is the first time i comment.
    This entry touched me in many ways. Im in my second semester in college (i dont get those words-senior, freshman and such, we don’t have them in México hehe) and i think my mom doesnt really like my major nor my school..i hope that 3 years form now she says exacly what you wrote about your boy. I really hope she’s proud of me . Mother and daughter relationships are always hard, and we’re no exception, but i cant wait to hear her say that she knows i made the right choice.
    Tank you for letting me know how she feels, trough your words.

  19. Natalie Avatar

    Ok, you´re going to make me cry. These kids just grow up so fast. Mine are still little, but I know that before I know it I´m going to be in similar shoes as you. Every so often I tell my almost 5 year old, “How come you keep getting bigger? Didn´t I tell you to stop growing up?” She tells me that she just can´t help it because she grows while she´s sleeping. =) Then I tell her that it´s ok– that really I love watching her grow.

  20. restaurant Gal Avatar

    Maria Jose,

    Thank you so much for reading my blog! If this post touched you enough to comment, then I am honored. I am only me, but here is what I hope for you. I hope you find a passion for whatever it is you study and ultimately for what you do after your studies are over. I hope you take a class or two in a subject your mother suggests, just to tell her you are willing to hear her. I hope those classes are not too horrible. I hope you find a mentor in a professor, a friend, a boss. And sooner rather than later, I hope you connect with your mom in a way that has nothing to do with what you do, but who you are. My very best to you.

  21. Mary Avatar

    Congratulations to both of you!

  22. Drew Avatar

    Sounds like your son is a Redhawk. T’is a beautiful campus and a great school. Very nice post.

  23. The Lavatory Lady Avatar

    I do NOT appreciate you making me cry before I have had my morning coffee! Oh my lord, that was such a beautiful post. Your writing is so lovely, I just felt the love for you child in every word. Funny part, you referred to your husband as Mr. Restaurant Gal…hilarious…as I have also called my husband Mr. Lavatory Man in my own blog. This is great…I will visit often.

  24. Jenni Avatar

    pride in your boy.. now that IS something to shout (or better yet, blog!) about! It is wonderful to hear you so eloquently and lovingly recall all those moments that lead up to this graduation. Congratulations you the both of you!
    I look on to my own two point five kiddos and know my time to look back will come all too soon.