Cutting the Cord And Hoping for the Best

My oldest son was born in a flood of taco sauce, chocolate, and ice cold coke. After nine months of eating healthy, exercising, popping daily vitamins, sleeping as well as someone carrying a 7 pound parasite can, and, in general, following the guide to a perfect pregnancy, my wife came home from work one day with a 12 pack of tacos, a bag of m&m’s, and enough soda for everyone in the neighborhood. It was the family meal deal before we really had the family.

I think my son knew it was time to make an appearance. Out of dietary self-defense. Any more meals like that and he might not fit down the tube.

And the night he was born I cried–tears of joy, relief, and abject fear that my wife and I had to take responsibility for this human being. He could be a chef, scientist, actor, writer, pro athlete; he might develop a taste for human flesh, torture small animals, or even become a politician. In those first few minutes of life, the possibilities are endless. After all, I was in graduate school studying southern literature, my wife went into labor during an episode of  Baywatch, and he was struggling down the birth canal during Bill Clinton’s State of the Union Address. (In retrospect, those last two seem strangely, and appropriately, connected.) We were, as you can imagine, a tad bit worried about those immediate cultural influences. What if he came out looking like David Hasselhoff with a southern accent and a taste for government pork?

I’ll admit, like so many other parents, I also cried last weekend when we dropped that same child off at his college dorm a couple days ago.

Joy, relief, and abject fear are those parental emotions that, we are learning, remain constant.

Joy–he finally used the potty on his own! Relief–no more diaper costs and stench. Fear–what if he has an accident at school?

Just keep adding milestones as the years go by: Joy–he graduated from high school. Relief–he got accepted to college (with scholarships). Fear–what if he has an accident. (Okay. So maybe the fear part is the same every time?)

Admittedly, everyone in our house knew it was time for my son to move out, including him. Don’t get me wrong–we love our son, we appreciate our son, and we value our son. He’s a pretty good kid and we have been lucky that we have had very few issues and problems. He’s relatively well behaved and we’ve never had to choose between paying the cable bill or sending in bail money.

But there’s a reason 18 year-olds are considered adult enough to rent their own apartments, join the military, or be tried as adults. There is a time to pack his bags, box up his valuables, and hope we spent those 18 years wisely. At some point, we have to let him put our parenting to the test out in the real world and hope the lessons stick.

Yet, as we drove away watching him stand in front of his dorm, it’s easy to travel back in time and see him as a little kindergartner standing in the room, lost, scared, happy, petrified, excited, nervous–pick an emotion and I’m sure it was swirling around. For all of us.

But at least he came home 7 hours later.

What, we wonder as we drive away, if he holes up in his room and forgets to go to class? What if he gets lost and can’t find a place to eat? What if he hates his roommate? Gets sick? Depressed?

What, we fear, if he doesn’t make any friends?

How, we wonder, will he ever survive without us?

Because, of course, without us he’ll forget how to set an alarm, become a social leper, and let himself starve in a fit of despair.

Or not.

He’s got 18 years of experience under his belt and I’m pretty sure we covered alarm setting and eating. History tells us he’ll be fine, meet new people, and continue growing up. We managed, after all, to survive after our parents abandoned us to the wilderness of the “real world” and turned our rooms into guest rooms/sewing rooms/anything but a come back and live with us rooms.

In fact, for the most part, everyone tends to grow up. Eventually. Hopefully, his path is easy, but I suspect he’ll grow up either because of us or in spite of us.

We probably need to worry more about whether he will ever visit, not if he will visit too often. Either way, there’s a time to cut the cord and hope for the best.

And the irony of parenting, it seems to me, is that we work hard to become increasingly less relevant to our children’s daily lives. Or, at the least, differently relevant. He doesn’t have to come home in 7 hours. Or 7 days. And, in fact, isn’t the goal that he knows he can but he doesn’t feel like he has to?

I just hope my desk fits under his old window and we have enough boxes for the stuff he left at home.

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About John Wegner
John Wegner is a Professor of English where he also serves as the Dean of the Freshman College. He and Lana, his wife, have been married over 25 years. They are the parents of two great sons who (so far) haven't ever needed bail money.

One Response to Cutting the Cord And Hoping for the Best

  1. Jessica J says:

    This was wonderfully written.

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