We attended a farewell cum 18th-birthday party last night of a dear friend’s son. Amid all the fun, food, drinks and frolic, the dance and the masti, was the realisation that this is one more child who is soon going to fly the nest; who is an adult now and the going-away is not going to be just a physical act of putting physical distance between him and the parents, but a “flying-away” thing, where the children are going away to test new waters and have but a handful of days more in their parental homes. They’re adults, they’re in college and they’re ready to take on the world! They’re also still in their teens, just out of school and bound to the parents by the proverbial umbilical cord! Does the 18th birthday suddenly make a butterfly out of a pupa? In the animal kingdom a chrysalis becomes useless once the butterfly takes wings. The young ones of several animals stand on their own feet in a matter of hours after birth. But tiny humans? It’s a different story altogether! Tiny humans grow into young humans and then into adult ones and then eventually old ones, but the cord is never really severed. And we are always so thankful for that! Being parents and then grandparents, or somebody’s guardian, nurturer or mentor in any way is such a big part of what spurs humans to develop, progress and create! 

So the realisation hit hard! Because this child is my eldest one’s contemporary and she is going away too! And so are a lot of other kids! A friend got back a couple of days ago from a week-long trip to settle his daughter in her hostel in a premier institution of the country. His one-line message after getting back was very poignant – “It’s going to be very difficult without her at home”! Some, like my child, are not actually going away physically, but I can already sense her barely reined-in excitement of a new chapter in life, and rightfully so. There are going to be more firsts in her life now than ever before! First day of college, the first ever friendship of adulthood which will be so different from the innocent, unselfish friendships of childhood, subjects she has never studied before, professors who will treat their students as adults and equals rather than small children, first romance, first internship, first adult party and the inevitable first drink, and probably many more firsts which she won’t even mention to us… 

As a lecturer in a college, I get to see these babies, many of whom have left homes and families for the first time, at the beginning of every new year. New city, new friends, new environment and the fact that they are adults now. Though just out of school, but adults nevertheless; and expected to take responsibility for themselves every step of the way, rather than be guided by parents like in all the previous years! Issues with the hostel, with the food, with the studies and projects and, amidst all of this, a new-found sense of freedom! Some blossom, some retreat into a shell; some thrive, some take a while to come into their own but make steady progress. Some discover their natural talents of leadership and decision-making, yet others even discover a new hobby or passion once they are away from home and the protective umbrella of their families! Some become the college geeks, revered and admired; some others become party animals, also revered and admired!! There is homesickness, craving for home-cooked food, perennial shortage of money and adjustment issues with just about everything. But there is also the urge to prove oneself, impress others, learn new skills and hone already acquired ones. Yes, a few do stray off the path in the initial days; but most of these quickly fall back in line and re-invent themselves beautifully after the initial few months. I’ve been watching this Circle of Life for many years now and it never fails to fascinate me. Along the path they need some guidance, of course. Friends, counsellors, mentors, confidantes; and often teachers who act as all of these! Over the years I’ve also seen that I cannot stay detached and act only as a teacher. I invariably end up acting as all of the above to many students and at times that side of my profession has been more rewarding than my actual classroom teaching!  

So all that I’ve been seeing these other parents of young adults go through, it’s my turn to go through now. It’s my turn to be apprehensive; but also to be proud and excited that she is getting to do what she wants! Just as I remember that first day of her school (where I felt a twinge of sadness and a tug at my heartstrings as she crossed that gate and went inside alone; yet I also felt just a teeny bit happy to regain my freedom daily for a couple of hours!); I’m also going to remember the first day of her college when she will walk into her alma mater with her eyes shining and her heart bursting with excitement! And I’m sure all the parents currently sailing in my boat are going to go through this same gamut of emotions over the next few days! 

Parents, gear up! Just as your child’s life is about to change, so is yours! As s/he gets more and more independent, there are going to be times when s/he will make you feel a little left out, a little worthless, a little angry because of that very independence that you are marvelling at right now. Hard as you might find to accept, you are not going to be a part of his/her every decision, every plan or every event. Rather than being the hand-holder, you are going to find yourself playing the role of a bystander in her/his life more and more often. But that’s inevitable! You have showered all your love and attention and given them their core values and now they need your support and trust. Your confidence, to make the right decisions, and sometimes even the wrong ones; and yet be assured that they will have your love and support, always! 

Happy “Adulting” to all these adult kids and happy “Going-away” to their proud parents!!

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