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A 'Done With Your Childhood' Party

Nanci Olesen

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When he was young
(Nanci Olesen)
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It's graduation day in cities and towns all across America -- and that means graduation parties. In Minnesota, Nanci Olesen is scurrying around with her in-laws and her husband and kids at this very moment preparing for an open house for her first-born child as he graduates from high school. Nanci is trying -- we stress 'trying' -- to compose herself:

We've got three teenagers. Henry is our first-born. He's a senior, so he's the one we're celebrating.

I can remember all kinds of parties in our back yard. My husband Steve and I were standing out there the other day. "There was the pirate party," said Steve. "We did a whole treasure hunt through the neighborhood, and there was a big treasure chest that they found at the end of the party that was buried in the garden. And there was a soccer party..." He trails off, picturing our son as a 9-year-old with all his pals in the yard.

I remember a hobo party and a camping party. One time we made a state fair in the yard, complete with rides and games. But the party we're preparing for this weekend is real -- this is the "You're done with your childhood" party.

Steve thinks it will be interesting to see what it's like for Henry to have a lot of his friends come by. He doesn't think that they reflect on the past the same way that we do. "I think it's about looking forward," Steve says. "I think it's the sense of 'Did that -- now we're headin' on.'"

Right. He's moving on. He's heading off to college in a few months. He's done being a kid.

So we're planning a typical Midwestern graduation open house. It will start at 4 p.m. on Sunday. We've invited relatives, neighbors and friends. I bet there will be around 75 people.

About three weeks ago, I ordered a big sheet cake that says "Congratulations Henry" on it, with a cap and scroll. Steve made the invitation on his computer. It's a photo collage of Henry, from birth to present. I mailed some and handed Henry the rest to his friends at school.

We'll have a buffet of grilled turkey breast, baguette, vegetables, chips, lemonade and wine. Pretty simple. I've catered many parties, so I know how to make a menu and an elaborate shopping list and keep it within a budget. I'm a great host. I'm good at introducing people to each other. I know how to "run out of wine" so that a few of my exuberant friends don't end up embarrassing themselves.

But you know what I don't know how to do? I don't know how to say goodbye to this kid.

These last few months have been grueling. There were the college applications, rejections, acceptances -- and finally, the decision. There were the plays and concerts he's been a part of. I've been at every one, beaming and crying.

And the other night I realized why this is so hard: I feel betrayed. Just when I really feel like I've gotten good at my job as a mom, instead of a promotion, I'm getting fired.

Out in our yard at the party, I'll be chatting with people and laughing out there on the grass. And you know, as a mom, I feel like I'm being put out to pasture.

I had this idea... What if I just start yelling at the party? I could stand in the middle of the yard and just let it rip: "You aren't graduating! Get back in the house and when you come out, we're going to have a nice third-grade pirate party!"

Maybe I'd rant right to my kid: "Henry, is this what it's come to? Photos of your childhood flashing by on a laptop, you towering over your fourth-grade teacher, telling her what college you're going to?"

And the big finale: "Yeah, right -- this is what happens. Kids grow up. I should be proud. Well, I am. What am I supposed to do now?"

Henry is a very low-key kid. He's got all the Montessori skills of grace and courtesy mixed with an intellectual, liberal outlook. I asked him what he'd do if I just started yelling. He told me he'd leave. Then he laughed.

"I don't think you'll start yelling, Mom," he says. He says the party's going to be fun -- all we have to do is just enjoy it. We can reflect on the good things we've experienced all these years, and just move forward.

He's right, of course. I'll breathe deeply. I'll converse out there in the yard with all the wonderful people Henry has known these 17 years.

I won't yell.


  • Comment | Refresh

  • By Kevin Stanchfield

    From Pasadena, CA, 06/14/2008

    I couldn't but notice when Nanci mentioned her son's "intellectual, liberal outlook". Intellectual liberal? Isn't that an oxymoron.

    By Kathy Teuscher

    From Strongsville, OH, 06/13/2008

    I find myself doing some really strange things these days. When is it that we cross that invisible line in the sand and start referring to everyone as “honey?” It’s as if overnight I grew into this old person. I never referred to anyone as “honey” and now it seems to just roll right off my tongue like a second language that I have spoken all my life. The kid at McDonalds when I get my diet coke. “thanks honey!”. The lady at the dry cleaners “Have a nice day, honey!” All of my son’s friends…”hi honey!” I actually cringe when I say it and yet I find myself saying it! Reminiscent of a first -time cuss word when you're 13; at least then it sort of made you sound cool!

    I’ve been feeling old lately. My youngest son just graduated high school and I am turning 50 this year. Pre-menopausal hormones are all over the place and the nest has never felt so empty! After a very long weekend celebrating the graduates big day in 95 degree heat, with friends and family, I dragged my tired body to the grocery store to restock the contents of a frig that 30 some-odd 18 year olds had managed to whittle down to a few pieces of left over pizza and a cupcake. Stocking up again on a weeks worth of food and silently wondering if the dinner fairy would magically appear to make dinner every night, I rounded the last aisle and picked up a six pack of the new lime flavored Bud Light. Refreshing and light, I could just feel my tranquil 50 year old body soaking up rays in a lounge chair with hardly a care in the world. Hastily I turned my thoughts to sun screen and SPF and how I had just that very day googled Juvaderm and Botox!

    I placed my lime flavored Bud Light on the conveyor belt along with my week’s worth of groceries and thought I heard the young cashier ask for my I.D. I smiled and continued to place more items on the conveyor belt as I’m sure that I was mistaken, when again I hear “May I see your I.D?” OK, now she had my attention.

    “We I.D for 35 and under” she said with a straight face, “I’m going to need to see your I.D”. To which I responded, “I’ll be 50 this year, but I’m happy to show you my I.D !” Knowing full well this will never, ever again happen in my lifetime.

    She looked at the year 1958 and blushed. “Wow, I wouldn’t have known”

    “thanks” I said.

    And then, I just couldn’t let it go. I asked if her blue eyes were really that blue or if she required corrective lenses. “twenty- twenty vision” she replied. “Are you working here on any sort of a special work program?” She just smiled her barely twenty something smile. Not knowing the full implication of what she had just done.

    Of course, with no witnesses no one would ever believe that I just got carded! Well, it was a nice little chuckle that I could keep to myself and file away in my ‘this sweet little dumb, blind thing just made my day’ file. Then she handed me my receipt and on it she had written “Yes, I did card her!”…..and signed it Megan. She gave me a wink and said “in case you want to show anyone! To which I said “Oh, thank you, you made my day, HONEY!”
    Kathy Teuscher

    By Linnea Olesen

    From Sarona, WI, 06/08/2008

    Remember, He's your arrow (Kalil Gibran)- You're aim is good .... Watch him fly and land on the bullseye !

    By barbara meyer

    From minneapolis, MN, 06/07/2008

    I'll be right there with you, Baby, yelling or no, and refilling your wine glass. I admire you.

    By c. cummings

    From WA, 06/07/2008

    I read your story wanting to laugh and cry at the same time. I, too, am watching my son head off to college in the fall and have this strange sense of conflict. One side of me is so happy and excited to see him enter into this new stage of life while the other side of me is silently wishing that he could show at least a little ambivalence at leaving. An hour ago I stood on my toes to give him a kiss, feeling the scratch of soft whiskers and remembering, so clearly, when this tall, funny, senstive young man was a plump smiling baby who easily fit on my lap. My sister told me once that when she looks at her adult children behind them she sees floating images of the babies, the toddlers, the teenagers that they used to be. I realize, as I hug my beautiful big son, that I, too, am embracing that sweet baby that so clearly lives on inside of him.

    By Katie Bausler

    From Douglas, AK, 06/07/2008


    You hit the heart mark with this one radio supermom!

    You and Henry remind me of my son and I just about one year ago.

    The good news is our children just get better with every passing stage.

    Thank you so much.--Katie B.

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