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The day after my son’s fantastic graduation party in New York I was a little beside myself. Really now, it’s a big deal to graduate a kid from college these days. One major life hurdle is cleared!

But oddly I felt out of sorts the next day.

When I was ten and then twelve and then fourteen I watched my three older siblings go off to college and never return. My eldest brother got involved in a cult and failed out of school and then roamed nomadically for a while. Then my oldest sister went to school and we rarely saw her again because she didn’t come home and Mom and Dad didn’t take us to visit. My next sister went to college too but in no time decided to stick out her thumb and hitchhike across country to as far away as she could get. It had become every man for himself, and I remember thinking someone should have warned me that families cease to exist once the kids go off to college. I actually thought this was normal!

Our nuclear family, which I see clearly now, was not too solid to begin with, broke apart and never regained its footing as an entity. We just didn’t have the strength as a family to hold ourselves together. So as each member left, ostensibly for college, the family got smaller and weaker and I grieved more.

So the day after my son’s graduation from college last week I had a sense of fear that this is what really happens, and that my son would flee from us now that he is capable of being financially independent. I had great fears that I have served my purpose, as my mother did, and that my role is over. That’s what my mother taught me, I suppose. Thankfully, seeing that idea in print helps me recognize its absurdity, but it’s hard to ignore the feelings that are right there threatening such nonsense as real. I’ve worked hard to have the family I do today, fighting against so much of what my mother taught me. But under it all these outlandish ideas spring up to threaten my happiness today and I swat them down and say, “See, we have a new life different from the one in your head. Stop it. Embrace your world as it is now.”

Celebrate. Enjoy.

I know our family will stay together and remain an entity because we’ve worked to create that life, but it’s still a scary idea for me to send my kid off into the world and hope he comes back to see me. I told him all this and asked him to show me his love more loudly so I could hear it well and shut down this fear in my head, and he said he’d be glad to.