My son Merrick was supposed to schedule the appointment for his high school senior portrait during the last weeks of school but repeatedly forgot. As I called to schedule his appointment last week, I remembered that I had gone through this same routine with Jordan. As I sat on the phone with the photography studio waiting to be transferred to the appropriate department to make Merrick’s appointment, I struggled not to let superstition and foreboding overcome me. I thought back to when I made the call to schedule Jordan’s appointment. I’d been annoyed that he forgot to handle it, but I was more excited about him entering his last year of high school. The senior portrait was the first milestone of that last year and marked the burgeoning college student to come.
Not only did Jordan forget to schedule his appointment, he almost forgot to go to the appointment. The day of his portrait sitting he raced into the house from playing basketball to quickly shower and change clothes. He called out to me, “Ma what should I wear? Matt is wearing a tie. Should I wear a suit?”
I yelled up the stairs, “Only if you want to. I don’t think you have to be that formal. Senior pictures always look a little unnatural to me. Wear something you like, that you feel comfortable in.”
Jordan came downstairs 30 minutes later wearing dark slacks and his goldenrod dress shirt. “Is this okay?”
“Yes, you look great. Now hurry up so you don’t miss your appointment.” I watched him out the back door and to the garage to the car.
I carried Jordan’s senior picture in my wallet and proudly showed it off. The last time I pulled it from my wallet was the day after his accident. I gave it to my friend Jeanne so she could scan it and email it to the Boston Globe for the article they were doing about the accident(Amherst Sophomore Dies in Crash). The picture ran with the article in the Boston Globe and then was the picture blown up and placed at the front of the church for the memorial service. Jordan’s senior portrait with his smiling, hope-filled face was the first thing I saw as my family and I made our way to the front row of the church.
I can’t lose another child. I contemplated not scheduling Merrick’s senior portrait as a way of safeguarding him against harm. Irrational thoughts filled my head. I reasoned, “I could take a picture of Merrick, he doesn’t need anything so formal. He doesn’t like formal portraits anyway, he probably won’t care if he doesn’t have one.” I calmed my fears enough to let my love for Merrick prevail. I don’t want Merrick to miss out on the high school rites of passage that he’ll cherish and remember. He’ll want to flip through his yearbook and see the faces of his friends and him. I’ll want to keep his picture in my wallet, just as I did Jordan’s.
I can only allow small bursts of thoughts on Merrick entering his final year of high school. I know that beyond this year lies his time away at college. This summer he’s been away for six weeks in New England at a pre-college arts program. When we talk he tells me, “I like college. I like the independence. I’m ready.” I listen to his words and give all the appropriate affirmations. “I’m so glad you’re having a good summer. It’s good to stretch yourself to see what your interests are. I’m glad you’re excited about college.”
I say all the right things and inside I struggle with my fears. I must let another son go away to college. He’s ready and excited to do his best this last year of high school to further his dreams. Part of me hoped and admittedly still hopes that he’ll feel the need to slow his pace. Maybe he’ll take a year off and work or do an internship close to home. He knows these are options but I can tell by the passionate way he speaks of his summer experience that he can’t wait for college. I won’t stand in his way. My husband always says, “You put all your hopes and dreams in your children.” He is right. My breath catches in my throat every time I fully think about another child of mine going away to college and the possibility that Merrick might not come home. I won’t let my fear be an impediment to any of his hopes and dreams. Breath by breath we keep going.