The End of Childhood

The End of Childhood

by Rebecca Weiker

At my high school graduation in 1983, I read a poem I had written, an ode to Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. I don’t remember all the verses, but know the poem ended with these words:

I will fly above the parched, tear-drenched island of my youth, always to never return.

This overwrought paean to my long awaited escape from my childhood likely didn’t leave my parents with a warm proud feeling.

This week is my son Ezra’s last week of high school. If there ever were a time to heed the words of my Buddhist teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, now would be a good time.

The past is gone, the future is not yet here, and if we do not go back to ourselves in the present moment, we cannot be in touch with life.

In kindergarten Ezra had a teacher who would sometimes say to the children, “don’t miss it” when they were distracted and inattentive. It was a gentle way of saying “pay attention!” an invitation to something precious, rather than a command or a threat. Whenever I heard her say this, I thought her words applied as much to us as parents as to the children. While smart phones didn’t yet exist (yes, my oldest child was not born in this century), there were still many ways to miss the thousands of days of my children’s lives. Worries that from the distance of a few years or even a few months, now seem trivial. Rushing to move through or get through to some other time, for no better reason than I thought there was something ahead that required my impatience.

As the day of his departure approaches, my mind wanders to an accounting of the last eighteen years. How many times did we go camping? Bike riding? Over the four years we shared a fifteen minute car ride to his school bus, how many mornings were spent in an interrogation about homework undone, tasks to be completed? Did I say yes enough? The times he needed me to be a container, to be wrapped tightly like a swaddled infant, did I create that sense of safety and of boundaries?

I remember those last days of my final school year, feeling like the breath I had been holding for 18 years would finally be released in one glorious exhalation. I didn’t realize that I could have followed my breath, noticing whatever sadness, despair, joy, was there.

Just as each birthday is really a celebration of the continuation of who we really are, my hope is that this next step for Ezra is just that – a continuation, a transformation, not an ending.

A few weeks ago, I was the leader for my local Sangha. I looked through my small library to find a reading to share. In Thay’s book Fear I found this parable:

Suppose two astronauts go to the moon. When they arrive, they have an accident and find out that they have only enough oxygen for two days. There is no hope of someone coming from Earth in time to rescue them. They have only two days to live. If you asked them at that moment, “What is your deepest wish?” they would answer, “To be back home walking on the beautiful planet Earth.” That would be enough for them; they would not want anything else. They would not want to be the head of a large corporation, a big celebrity or president of the United States. They would not want anything except to be back on Earth – to be walking on Earth, enjoying every step, listening to the sounds of nature and holding the hand of their beloved while contemplating the moon.

With only a two days left before my son graduates from high school, I feel like that astronaut, wanting only to have time to walk with my son, sit on the couch, share a meal. Being a parent is the “longest shortest time“, and we don’t have to leave earth, or have our children leave us, to remember to embrace the present moment.

Yesterday morning, I drove Ezra to the bus stop, the third to last time we will have made this trek together. We have our routine, honed over four years of early mornings. I wake up at 6:00, get dressed, and pack his lunch. I cut fruit and pour cereal and milk in to a Tupperware. Ezra awakens/is pulled from his bed at 6:20. At 6:40 I descend our front steps open the garage door, get into the car and place the Tupperware on the seat and wait. At 6:42 Ezra opens the car door, apologizes for his lateness and we drive off, arriving at 6:58 at North Hollywood High School where he gets the bus to his school. The bus pulls away by 7:00, and I head home or to work.

Yesterday was our third to last journey together. Shortly after I returned home, Ezra called. He had left his backpack at home, and in his backpack was a notebook that needed to be turned in his next class. The notebook was a significant part of his final grade in his Humanities class. It was 7:37. It would take me an hour each way to drive to the school. I was in a particularly crabby mood, unsettled by these looming transitions. I had already picked not one but two fights with my husband, and I was thinking about all the times I have yelled instead of speaking softly, all the times I have judged and shamed and fallen so far short of my aspirations. And I know that dwelling in this place of self-judgment and shame is a further violation of my maternal role.

So this is what I said:

“High school is almost over and I never got the chance to drive all the way to school to give you an assignment you forgot. You created this opportunity just in time, on this, your last day of finals.”

I drove to the school, and as we stood in the hallway, I transferred the notebook and a kiss. We smiled at each other, and I walked back down the hall, and out of the school.

Yes, it is the end of childhood, but he will always be my child.

photo credit: Sean Hecht

About Rebecca Weiker
Rebecca Weiker is the Program Director of Healing Dialogue and Action and is dedicated to creating opportunities for healing for individuals, families and communities impacted by violence. She received her parent educator certification from The Center for Nonviolent Education and Parenting, is a certified mediator, and has taken courses in Mindfulness and Mindful Self-Compassion through Insight LA. She lives with her husband Sean, and her two best teachers, her sons Ezra (18) and Leo (14), in Los Angeles where she is a member of Flowing River Sangha in Silverlake.

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