My youngest is off to college . . . Now what?
The youngest of my three children, Demi, went to college in Memphis
– Tennessee this Fall. Rhodes College is only four hours away from Birmingham, but it might as well be in Australia. I used to rub Demi’s little back to sleep, tell her she will change this world one day, and in my head play a concert along their tiny and soft spine. I did that with all three of my children.
My oldest, Zade, is an attorney at West Palm Beach – Florida. The only one here in Birmingham with me in Dury, my middle child. I never imagined having two out of three away. Really, I never imagined one of them gone. It was only yesterday when all three were playing in my front yard on their bikes and scooters.
Zade, the lawyer, was a precautious little guy with unquenchable curiosity and a zest for all things mysterious. He was always on the hunt for something. One day him and a friend claimed they found a ‘leg’ in the manhole next door. Another day he worked on a serious ‘Virginia project’ when he found an old part of a fax machine. Did these things tell me he would be a lawyer? Not really, what they told me was he has tons of imagination, a trait many successful lawyers possess.
Dury, the musician/photographer, had the perfect cheeks for squeezing and kissing for hours. He mastered anything he put his mind to. One day he saw the Rubik’s cube at the house. A few hours later he could do it in less than a minute. Another day he saw a guy flick a playing card about fifty yards on television, and sure enough, an hour later he was able to as well.
Demi, on her way to become a neuroscientist, was always inquisitive and so lovable. She mastered that fine line between humility and pride. Demi was gifted with an attractive quality unfathomable. People just migrated towards her, and trusted her with their problems. She finished high school near the top of her class, and will make a wonderful brain doctor. Demi will possibly figure out the cure to many mental ailments.
But really, when did they all grow up?
I knew this day would come, but ignored it with plans of them going to the local college, and hopes of them getting a job in the same city. The “What if” never solidified into an actual, “What if?”. Then it slammed me in the face, as I watched their car turn around the corner leaving me in the dust.
Why did this happen?
Is reaching independence that important? I must admit, I left my home of Damascus – Syria and traveled halfway around the world to attend college in Tennessee at the age of 18. If one of my kids said: I would like to attend college in China, what would I have done?
I can’t exactly point to what drove me away from home. It could have been the lack of freedom. My father was the poet laureate of the country and allowed his fame to cover many of the problems we had, but what is an 18-year-old to do? I wanted to reach for the stars like they do in the free world. I wanted to fly among the clouds and drink the rain on its way down. I wanted to swim in the ocean without an inflatable tube or fins, and I wanted to climb Mount Everest and stick a flag on top which said: “I am changing this world.”
Coming to the United States at the age of 18 was the biggest gift I could have given my children. From my immigrating here, they learned about chasing dreams, and attaining them. They learned about sketching their own path and creating a map to follow. Most of all, they learned if you put your mind towards a goal, nothing will stop you. I’m not bragging. I have put my mind towards many things which did not come true. Sometimes we learn from the journey much more than the result intended.
In Syria, I felt like a bird with no wings. My father could sense that predicament, and he offered for me to go abroad, possibly the best thing that has ever happened in my life. Without being here, I wouldn’t have ended up with three brilliant and beautiful children on their way to chart their own paths, in this journey we call life.
At the age of 18, I reached my quest for independence, hidden in seeking a higher education, and also in searching for the freedom Syria did not offer. Nothing could have stopped me. When each of my kids sought independence, I knew nothing would stop them. Although I’m not sure I was ready for my baby girl to fly away.
We raised them to be strong, independent, creative, and full of initiative. We hoped they would grow up to become adults who would conquer this world and change it for the better. We did our best to teach them good things, and keep all the bad away.
But this day came out of no where. I was not ready to see my little girl go away. Who will protect her? Who will answer every call and request? Why should she tend to her own needs? I know, that is a good thing, but really?
When she was little, I used to rub her back to sleep and whisper in her ear, “You will change this world one day.”
Well, this day is here. Demi is on her way to doing just that: Changing the world. The how and when are up to her, but it starts with her seeking and finding herself in a book, a piece of art, a trip, a person, or something she makes/experiences/reads/writes/invent. The possibilities are endless.
Am I glad I told their subconscious to repeat the changing-the-world statement all through the night, while they dreamt of scooters and bikes? I am, with half a smile. After all, they are not with me, just like I vanished from my family to chart my own way three decades ago.
Changing the world is a big task, but when they were little, they could dream of anything. We grow up to realize our young dreams were too big for the real world, or were they?
I hope one day, every one of my three children will do something, big or little, to change the world for the better, even if its their own world.
I just miss rubbing their soft little backs to sleep. And that concert I played in my head as my fingers traced their tiny spine?
The music will never die.