Dear Mom of a High School Senior,
In case you are feeling the need to spoil your child a little this year—a need to go out of your way to help him and hang out with him and do sweet things for him a little more than usual—I’m here to tell you to go for it. This year will go by quickly, and you will not regret making it all (or at least largely) about your child.
When my oldest child, Jack, was a senior in high school a few years ago, his younger siblings often referred to it as “The Year of Jackie.” I did not deny it, and I did not apologize.
Actually, they were being a tad dramatic. None of my other children suffered from a lack of attention, affection or necessities. But there was something distinctly Jack-centered about that year. When I baked cookies, it was usually Jack’s favorite kind. I made a lot of his favorite meals and bought more of his favorite snacks. I doted on him—not really more than the others, but more than this independent, oldest child of mine had let me dote on him in years. I guess we both knew that things were going to change. I guess we both wanted to make the most of that last year.
All through high school, Jack took AP classes but rarely asked me for help with his homework, even though I am an English teacher. We didn’t discuss the books he was reading or the papers that were due. But suddenly, during The Year of Jackie, he wanted my help proofreading scholarship essays and applications. I loved it. I hopped on every chance to do things for him: I folded his laundry. I ran his errands. I looked for ways to make him feel special. But more than that, I think I was also looking for ways to make myself feel needed.
I needed to mother Jack that year in a way that his personality and the busyness of a house full of kids hadn’t let me do in a long time. I delighted in our trips to visit colleges, hours alone in the car with him, time to talk.
I was also frantic to get in last-minute parenting tips, advice and instructions—anything that I was afraid we had somehow missed over the years. Did he know how to use an ATM? Did he know the importance of looking people in the eye? Of going to church even when he was too tired? Of reading good books, changing out his toothbrush regularly and calling his grandparents? From major life lessons to minor housekeeping, I felt compelled to teach and instruct him in everything I could think of. It wasn’t easy holding back, but I did my best. I wanted him to be ready to leave home, but I didn’t want to send him bolting out the door.
I wanted him to miss home, but I did not want him to be too homesick. I cooked and baked more during The Year of Jackie. I envisioned him sitting around the dorm telling his friends about his mom’s homemade potato soup or amazing pecan pie. I hoped he would miss my cooking.
During The Year of Jackie, I hugged him tighter and more often, and he let me. I lingered with him at the table after dinner and delighted in even the most causal conversations. I tried not to hover, but I did soak in as much Jack time as I could.
Still, no matter how I doted and helped and lingered, time did not slow down. The year flew by. But it was a great year!
Now we have The Weekend of Jackie from time to time, and the other kids don’t complain too much. They miss him too.
Next year will be The Year of Mary, a couple of years after that The Year of Kitty and, finally, The Year of Chester. Maybe my other kids’ last years will be a little easier. I know now that graduation, though it does change things, really isn’t the end. They are still my kids. They still need me. And they do come home. After all, I bake an amazing pecan pie.