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I had never planned on being a single mother to two kids but I’ve been doing it for seven years, ever since my 16-year marriage went south and the man I wed at 20 was for all intents and purposes out of the picture. And in less than three months, my firstborn, the boy who still makes me smile at the mere thought of him, will graduate high school. And I’m a mess.

I’m a mess because it’s been a long ass road. Being a parent means sifting through all your baggage and issues to make the best decisions for your offspring, and creating a life with meaning, purpose and potential for them. And I have a lot of baggage. A sexually abused girl who married young, was disconnected from her mother and then had a husband with his own mental health issues which came to bore on one truly traumatic day. After which I had to be the sole breadwinner, cheerleader, disciplinarian, and guardian of all that was important for my two little loves. I did not do it perfectly. Some days I did it downright poorly. But I showed up for them every day and kept the lights on (okay there was that one time…), food on the table, conversations going, doctor visits happening, parent/teacher conversations in swing, homework checked and now he is graduating and going to college. I didn’t do this alone–my village is strong. But I did this. And while it’s not really the finish line, I’m ugly crying across the mile marker.

I’m a mess because the idea of him starting a new chapter, of semi adulthood settling in is both utterly thrilling and utterly terrifying. I know he is a good person, with good values and a good, mostly sensible, head on his shoulders (he chose a small SUNY college for accounting after weighing cost, grades and earning potential–who is this kid??). But he is a teenager, and they are all subject  to stupid decisions. I have had many a conversations (too many for his taste) about decisions about sex, drinking, and drugs. And associations and friendships. And personal responsibility and morality and society. And he is also a Black man, with all the prejudices and problematic situations that may mean for him. His beautiful thoughtful mind, affable nature and articulate speech are certainly wonderful gifts that can help him go far but they are not enough to shield him from someone else’s preconceived notion or a series of actions that can end up hurting him. And while I’ve come to terms with that while he’s navigating around our town, the thought of sending him into the wider world snatches a bit of my breath away sometimes.

But I’ve decided I’m going to own this entire emotional experience. Because at some point this moment will pass and become just a memory. Like when he first learned to walk. Or talk. Or started school. Or learned to drive. All those milestone moments that consumed my world but then got left in the rear-view as we sped on to the next thing. I will revel in all these emotions and be on the lookout for which of the moments in this experience I will get to snapshot in my mind. Which of these moments will come back to me when I’m holding his firstborn or when I’m aged and infirmed. Which will make the catalog of memories, joining the likes of the first day I sat in a ray of sunlight with him in the rocker in his room and snuggled his head tucked under my chin. Or how he used to mispronounce the word ¨flowers.¨ Or his many wild goofy boy moments. Or the way he now bends down to kiss my forehead and hug me. Sure, I will go through it with my daughter and her experience will have its own unique qualities, as the complicated mother daughter relationship would. I will revel in all that because it too will pass.

But give me this moment to be in full mom-ness. I’ve earned it.

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