By Sarah Haug
“These children are the plants of Thine orchard, the flowers of Thy meadow, the roses of Thy garden …” The Baha’i Faith teaches that raising children is one of the most important jobs a person can do in this life. As my last child heads off to college, I am struck by the way that job is, at one and the same time, done and not done. A few years ago, I had four children in the house. Now I have none. I have been waffling between feeling a little light-headed at how free I “should” feel, and the idea that I have been summarily fired from a job I’ve held for 31 years.
Any parent understands there is no love like the love you feel for your child. It’s off the charts. And yet, I can’t think of any other relationship in which the ultimate expectation is to separate. Couples are supposed to grow closer (hopefully) over time. Friendships ebb and flow, but that degree of closeness is worked out mutually between the two parties. With children, somehow, over the course of their growing up, parents have to figure how to let their children grow more independent and ultimately leave. The need becomes clear from that first moment a child stands up and start toddling across the room—away from you. Every child ultimately has to walk out the door entirely.
I know it’s okay to feel many emotions at once: to feel grief and joy at the same time isn’t actually a contradiction. I can be sad for me, happy for him, and proud, terrified and excited all in the space of three seconds. Or in the same instant.
I can find comfort too in the fact that just because he’s moving to another city, my job isn’t really entirely finished. There was no timer that went off when he turned eighteen that said “you’re done!” I can also be thankful that he knows he’s always welcome to come home. Maybe at first that will be for money or to do laundry or because he needs a place to crash for a few days, months, or years until he finds his place in the world. Our elder sons lived with us for a time after college because they got jobs in Pendleton and we had a big house. There was no reason to pay for internet twice! From our perspective, it was a gift we hadn’t expected to receive.
As my son goes off to college, one quote resonates particularly: “Children are the most precious treasure a community can possess, for in them are the promise and guarantee of the future …” For me, the future is now.