How can you be graduating in three weeks? Last Saturday at midnight, I woke up and you weren’t home yet. Usually when this happens I drift back into a drowsy half-asleep state, waiting for either the ding of a text telling me you are on your way, or the buzz of the garage door opening, telling me you are home and safe. But last Saturday night was different; my mind snapped fully awake.
As Dad slept, oblivious, images flashed through my mind. Images so clear, Jacob, they seemed to be from last week, rather than from 18 years ago.
Newborn Jacob. Your tiny fingers with remarkably sharp baby nails; your fuzzy aqua sleeper with the giraffe on the front; your quiet, content personality, agreeable and reasonable from your very beginnings.
Baby Jacob. I remember being amazed at how large you seemed at your six-week check-up. Now I look back – how could I have thought a 12-pound-baby was big? Dad and I used to speak about your age in days; then we spoke about it in weeks or months.
Finally, we moved on to years, but sometimes we added a half for clarification, because when you’re very young that half makes a difference. He’s six and a half. And now you are graduating?
And I think the reason I bring such disbelief to the end of your childhood is because my feelings for you, 18-year-old Jacob, are not that different from my feelings for newborn Jacob, or 4-year-old Jacob or 12-year-old Jacob.
Your birth brought me into motherhood. Your birth taught me a love I had not known. Holding newborn Jacob, wrapped tightly in a blanket, I understood, as I had never before, what Mary must have felt for Jesus. I wanted only the best for you. I wanted you to grow to be kind and compassionate; smart and funny; I wanted you to be faithful and to hear the voice of God.
And what I want for you now has really not changed since those blanket days. During my fearful moments as a mother, I have whispered to Mary, asking her to pray for my children, to pray for me. I have talked to Mary about you, Jacob. She has listened.
You are graduating. Last Saturday night, as I waited for you to come home, I tried to make peace with the idea of your graduation, of your upcoming move to college. New images rushed at me. You, at age 2, crawling around barking, pretending to be a dog. You, a fourth grader with your Battle of Books notecards. You, a seventh grader, impossibly skinny, playing first base, stretching to catch the throw.
In each memory of you, I was there, too, gradually stepping back. As you grew, I handed more and more of your life over to you, believing always that I was never handing it to you alone, but to God, also, who was with you; who was in you. And often, as I stepped back, I would whisper to Our Lady, to Mary, who I knew understood all about letting go.
So, Jacob, I will step back again, believing that along with the literature and calculus, you have also learned about prayer and God’s presence. I will step back believing that you will search for the Holy Spirit’s nudging when you need direction. I will step back, believing you will call me, text me and trust me to step forward whenever you find yourself in need.
I will step back, knowing that as I do, your university will step forward to teach you things that Dad and I cannot. And as I step back, I will continue to whisper to Mary. Jacob, I pass you to a university wise enough to choose the mother of Jesus as its namesake. I step back with faith. I step back with profound love.
And I pass you to Notre Dame.
(Annemarie and her husband Bill live in Glendale with their four children. They belong to Holy Family Parish, Whitefish Bay and St. Francis of Assisi Parish, Milwaukee. Annemarie has received local and national awards for her writing on the intersection of faith and family life. Visit Annemarie’s website, discoveringmotherhood.com to read archived columns or excerpts from her other writing. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org)