I’m glad to be with you, Samwise Gamgee, here at the end of all things.
For the last time in more than 2300 mornings, Middle once again came down to breakfast for a quick bite to eat before departing for school. I commented that this was effectively the last day of school for him as his classes ended and he only had an amusement park class trip and graduation practice before donning cap and gown. He sipped at his drink and quoted a line from Peter Jackson’s Return of the King: I’m glad to be with you, Samwise Gamgee, here at the end of all things. Standing and working at the kitchen sink, I nodded and responded, Except that this isn’t an end, son. It’s a beginning. He could only concur.
And for him, it is a beginning. He’s still a teenager with that breed’s sensibilities – or occasional lack thereof – and sense of invincibility and confidence. In less than three months, he will join his two best friends at an urban university to study and pursue his love, acting. And then my wife and I will be left only with Youngest in the house, still in middle school but rapidly growing and maturing; I can now look into his eyes without having to lower my face and as my wife stated in a conversation to another he really is an old soul.
But while it’s a beginning for Middle, neither is it an end for my wife and I. It is instead a transition for us as he takes first steps of independence and adulthood. He bears some of the stamps of adulthood already, both being able to vote and serve in the military yet he’s only now an adult-in-training. He will leave for college and I expect that there will be the periodic phone calls and questions about procedures, processes and situations as he continues the process of maturation. God knows that my own father received more than his fair share as I witnessed and waded through episodes of what can charitably be described as debauchery during my freshman year of college – Dear God, Dad…how do I handle this kind of thing? – and even beyond. It also leads to a more general question, and that is how I myself wish to see this relationship as we both age. As he joins his elder sister in moving along and upwards on the Bell Curve of maturity and capability, it’s obviously apparent that my own position on the same curve is not on an upwards trajectory. Middle-age is a time when a person is generally moving along a plateau of physical, emotional and intellectual capabilities before the gradual effects of age take their own toll, although at differing rates for each of capabilities. 50 is the new 35? Yeah, but only with sufficient quantities of Ibuprofen and Scotch and occasionally in combination… Sprinkle in an awareness of the effects of advanced old age from being sandwiched and it becomes a question with a bit more emotional immediacy even if it’s unlikely that I’ll find myself in a similar situation. Don’t even be surprised if you and your mate each sees a different answer to the relationship question. The point is that it’s something worth considering since it’s obvious that you won’t want it to end and yet, it cannot remain the same.
I’m fortunate in that this relationship change is already taking place with Eldest, even though I’m not certain quite how it would be described; I only know that it’s different and as long as we both are satisfied with it, that’s alright.
Perhaps Tolkien’s classic trilogy is a good analogy for what’s taking place. In the end, Frodo and Sam survived with their relationship matured. Each better understood the other and had a renewed respect for what each had accomplished on the journey. Raising a child is a long, long journey but with every journey, there’s a beginning and an end. What happens when that journey together ends isn’t written in stone at the beginning but it’s something that will be slowly carved when the next step of their journey begins. By this time, your child is in some ways an adult and is capable of viewing life and relationships with a fairly astute eye; to think that their next steps will entail the exact same relationship with you as when they were children will only assure an ugly carving, if one is carved at all.