Somewhere I have a picture from Connor’s first day of Kindergarten. It was a beautiful day in early fall. The bus drew to a stop before our house and we crossed the road together. Connor stepped up onto that tall, tall bus step and then with the encouragement of the bus driver and me, turned dutifully to have his picture taken, grinning at me. Then he turned, climbed up the remaining steps, and disappeared onto the bus. I crossed the road and the stop sign on the bus rotated in, the red, flashing lights turned off, and the bus slowly pulled away, gathered speed and moved down the road. I waved and waved as it left, keeping it up as it went up and down the road, then disappeared in a misty yellow blur over the hill.
As this was almost 20 years ago, I wasn’t sure how my pictures would turn out. I deposited my film for development and waited. (My, how times have changed!) When they came back, there he was, my little boy, smiling on the steps of the bus, heading off on a new adventure. And then I noticed his hands. They were clenched tight, knuckles white. My heart cracked. On that day when he pasted that bright smile on his face, clearly he was scared as well. But he stepped up onto that bus, smiled for his picture, and took his seat. And I didn’t notice. I didn’t see his small clenched hands through my tears. I only saw his smile.
Next month Connor graduates from college. It’s hard to think about. As the oldest, he’s always been the one to go first–the one I’ve had to let go of first, little by little. While cleaning out my Inbox recently I found some old e-mails from his early college days, many of them from me to him. Not so many from him to me! It’s an interesting record of our relationship. Many of mine were filled with variations of this line: I love you and miss you! and So, can you drop me a quick note so that I know you’re alive and hopefully thriving? or Are you feeling any better? My maternal radar is on high, trying to pick up incoming signals of your health status.
There are also helpful bits of advice: P.S. It’s good etiquette to answer your mother’s e-mails, especially around Christmas time.
Or evidence of enabling: We mailed your package yesterday so keep an eye out for it! Your glasses are in a case tucked into the middle of all the clothes. I also sent out your thank you notes today and will hopefully deposit your checks this weekend.
I also found some snippets of our conversation on our drive up to get textbooks for his first semester:
“But that’s how fast the rest of the traffic is going.”
“I don’t care. It’s dangerous to drive so fast.”
“Don’t worry, Mama, I have the reflexes of a bobcat.”
“Connor, they’re endangered animals. I don’t think their reflexes are that great.”
“No, they aren’t endangered, only threatened.”
—“I thought of a new game to play. It’s called No one Catches Connor. My first favorite thing about it is the alliteration. My second favorite thing is that I have to speed really fast so that I always win.”
So much has changed since that first day in Kindergarten and I miss that little boy so much but am so proud of the man he’s become. When I look back at that Kindergarten picture, the clenched hands still break my heart, but his smile is still strong. He stepped bravely into that adventure, despite his fears, and has gone on to so many more. On Saturday, May 14th, he’ll mount the steps to the stage to collect his college diploma. I know he’ll be smiling, but you can bet I’ll be checking his hands this time. I’m pretty sure they’ll be relaxed. He’s come a long way. And my face–I’m pretty sure I’ll be smiling through my tears. So, maybe on some levels, not much has changed after all.