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Jennifer Cullen Headshot

Can I Go to High School With My Kid?

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My son started high school this week. And he's acting like he hasn't got a care in the world, cool as the six jars of homemade jalapeno sauce curing in our refrigerator for 21 days.

Too bad I can't say the same about myself. The past couple of days, I've been feeling like I'm going to cry and throw up all at the same time.

Last week, we went to his freshman orientation. He was excited to check out the school for the first time but I was nervous for him. Big school, big change. To calm my nerves, I was talking more than usual on the way there, joking around about how he'd grown two inches over the summer. And about the month he spent at his grandparents' house in the Poconos, enjoying the independence of being able to ride his bike everywhere. And, whew, didn't the summer go by quickly?

When we got to the school, he calmly strolled in to the auditorium and chose where he wanted us to sit. I could see him craning his neck, using the four plus inches he has on me to look around for some of his friends from middle school. And as we sat there waiting for the principal to begin speaking, the whole "my baby is going to high school" reality hit me and I started to get a little teary about my boy growing up and had to take a few deep breaths. Then these three kids got up on the stage and sang an incredible a cappella version of the national anthem and I had to say to myself, "Come on, you over-emotional mother. Get a grip on yourself. Don't cry now."

And I managed to hold the tears in.

But I probably overcompensated for my emotions by smiling just a little too broadly, and clapping too loudly, at the really talented percussion group that took the stage a few minutes later. And I probably looked a little too intently at my kid while he was sitting next to me, taking it all in. But when the speeches and performances were all done, I composed myself and we moved out with the masses to accomplish all the things that needed to be done: pick up his schedule, get his locker, figure out the bus schedule and get his picture taken for his ID.

I just wanted to give him a big hug and tell him how much I loved him. But I restrained myself.

I know I don't have a choice here. I know I have to let him grow up. And I really do want him to. I want him to become more independent. I want him to be more responsible. (Please pick your wet towel up off the floor and put your clean clothes away.) And I can't wait for him to experience high school.

No, my rampant emotions don't come from me being worried about him starting 9th grade. I know he's going to be just fine. He's ready. He's going to a great school: public, magnet and the right place for him to be. And I'm not weepy because his going to high school means I'm getting older. I'm happy getting older, honestly.

It's just that I'm so proud of him and of the person he is becoming. And I love him so much.

I still remember what happened three years ago, when I dropped him off for his first day of sixth grade, the start of middle school. Right after he got out of the car, he looked back at me, a little forlorn, and it was almost more than I could bear. I thought, "Just turn your back and walk away kid, unless you want to see your mom bawl like a baby." And he did and I high tailed it out of the drop off line with tears streaming down my face. By the third day, I was fine. He was fine after the first.

He has been a part of me since the day he was conceived. Our bond is strong. But for the last couple of years, he and I have both been working on the unspoken task of letting go of each other. He's a teenager and I'm going to give him some space. But I'm still his mother. I'll continue to wash his clothes, tell him to brush his teeth and hug him goodnight. And I'll be there when he asks for my advice or gets off course and needs a gentle push back in the right direction.

Tomorrow, I'll get up early with him. I probably won't be able to sleep anyway. I'll make him a couple of fried eggs and some bacon, his favorite breakfast. And walk him halfway down the block to the bus stop. Just far enough to feel like I'm a part of his first day but not so far that I'm an over bearing, nervous nelly mom. He won't hug me in public even though it will be still be dark out. That's probably for the best because then he won't see the tears welling up in my eyes.