Monday, May 20, 2019

My daughter is graduating, and I'm (mostly) OK with that

My daughter Melanie graduates from high school tomorrow, and several times recently I've had people ask whether the whole graduation thing eventually becomes routine when you have a larger family.

Melanie is, after all, the fourth of our kids to graduate from Wickliffe High School. I suppose you might excuse Terry and me if, at this point, we become a little jaded by the whole thing.

But we're not. Or at least I'm not (and I think I can say with a degree of certainty that my wife isn't, either).

I've mentioned this before, but for many years I thought of Melanie as the baby of the family. That was because...well, because she WAS the baby of the family. At least until Jack came along. And even then she was still "Little Mel" to me.

Then what happens is that you go about your daily routine for days, months, and years on end. You work, you go on vacations with the family, you cut the grass, you wash the dishes, you clean the littler boxes every morning, etc. In short, you live your life.

And the next thing you know, your Little Mel is 18 and graduating. You're helping her with college applications and housing contracts and scholarship essays. And then she walks across that stage in an overpriced cap and gown, gets her diploma, spends a summer working and hanging out with friends, and she's back to being a freshman again.

Only this time it's as a college freshman. And nothing is ever quite the same again.

We have two college kids in our family right now. In a few months, Melanie will be the third. Elissa is out of college, but the effect is the same: They may technically live with you, but they're never really part of your household after that.

Or not in the same way, at least. At best, they're caught somewhere between being the little kid who lives upstairs and the young adult who splits time between your house and a dorm or apartment.

This isn't a bad thing, mind you. It's part of growing up and it has to happen. I WANT it to happen. It's the only way they become independent, functioning grown-ups.

It's just that I'm never ready for it when it actually occurs. I'll tell you that living on her own in a dorm – even if it's just 20 minutes away in downtown Cleveland – is going to be good for Mel. She needs that experience in order to grow and mature.

But the thought of our house without her there on a full-time basis is so sad to me. I love seeing her. I love talking to her. I love helping her when I can. I even love getting her glasses of water when she's laying on the couch and is entirely too lazy to get up and go to the kitchen herself (the family hates when I do that for her).

More to the point, what I love is not those individual experiences, but Melanie herself. She is smart, she is funny, she is hard-working (when properly motivated), and yes, she is beautiful. I mention that last because it's the least important thing on the list, but you won't find a dad in the world who wouldn't say it about his daughter.

Anyway, I guess the point is that, even though this is the fourth time we've done this, it is no less emotional than the first time. I'm so happy for Melanie and so proud of everything she has accomplished, and I know my heart will swell with pride when they announce her name tomorrow.

This is a great thing for her. A wonderful accomplishment. What experience has taught me, though, is that it's also bittersweet for Mom and Dad. Your child is growing up, which is what you want, but she's also starting the process of separating from you and beginning her own life.

And I don't know that any of us is ever 100% ready for that.

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