This morning at 10:00 A.M., a life-altering event took place. My youngest child, Victoria, graduated from high school. Dressed in a ruby red cap and gown, she and 16 other young people took the traditional walk across (in this case) the altar and received their diplomas from the University of Texas - University Charter School in Waco, Texas. As much as the day can be called a red-gown day for Victoria, it is a red-letter day for me.
I began parenting in 1974. (That's 35 years ago for those of you who don't do math in your head. I didn't have to do the math because my oldest child turned 35 last week.) 23 years-old at the time of Alexandra's birth, I attended graduate school at Washington University in St. Louis. I had been supporting myself since I turned 18 and left home for college, and I certainly felt grown-up and ready for parenting. While I didn't count on my first marriage ending so precipitously, making me a single parent, I managed well-enough for the two and a half years before I married Michael and got some help.
I felt grown-up and ready for parenting; after all, I had been taking care of myself for years. Attending college and graduate school at private universities required an enormous effort on my part because I paid my own way -for tuition, for books and fees, for housing, food, and anything else I needed. My parents did not approve of my choice to leave home for college and made supporting me conditional on attending the local university. I could not conceive of staying in my small town when a whole unexplored world beckoned.
This parting of the ways made me an emancipated youth at a time when normal emancipation happened at 21, not 18. Voting happened at 21, not 18, for that matter. Many colleges required parental permission for student s to stay out past midnight, among other arcane rules of the dark ages. And even today, it is damned hard to be classified as emancipated in the eyes of the federal government's financial aid machine.
Why does any of this matter? And what does it have to do with Victoria's graduation?
Being busy educating myself from the ages of 18 to 24 and busier raising children from the ages 23 to 58, I missed out on opportunities to explore the very world I left home for so eagerly. When I talk with my peers and compare notes on the 60s and 70s, I hear some common themes. Hitchhiking around Europe or taking the Grand Tour with nothing but a knapsack and a Eur-rail pass is one. Attending the moratorium march on Washington to end the Vietnam war is another. Hanging out in Haight-Ashbury (that's San Francisco and hippiedom for you youngsters) is another.
I also did not join the Peace Corps and go to Africa or South America. I did not join VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) and go to Appalachia or urban ghettoes to change the world, although I did do volunteer work and hang out with official VISTA volunteers. I did not go on any civil rights marches or voter registration drives in the South, although I actually wasn't old enough for much of that action. I don't feel bad about admitting that I did not drop out or drop acid. I managed to cross the borders of Canada and Mexico a few times, but usually under the most mundane of circumstances.
Again you may be asking: Why does any of this matter? And what does it have to do with Victoria's graduation? Just this - I am now free of responsibility for anyone. Victoria will surely need guidance at times, but won't want it or accept it for several more years if my experience with Alexandra and Nicholas holds true. Michael is responsible for himself and as happy to be a free spirit as I am. Okay, there are the cats, but providing for them is reasonably uncomplicated.
I am now free to move about the cabin on the jumbo jet of life. I have dreams that have been delayed for 35 years. I have plans that were put on the backburner when people cooked on cast iron stoves. I have a closet full of some days that can actually become todays. I have firsts waiting for me that I never thought I would accomplish - First visit to Costa Rica. First trip to the U.K. First Grand Tour of Europe. First stay in an Italian villa. First idyll on a Caribbean beach. First .... the list goes on and on.
Watch out world, here I come.