Turn the Page

by J.D. Rhoades

 Warning: the following post has little or nothing to do with books or mystery writing. It happens. 

 This past Saturday, I sat on a metal bench in the blazing sun on a bright blue North Carolina morning. It was only 8 AM, but the wife and I and about a thousand other people were sitting shoulder to shoulder, fanning ourselves with flimsy programs that were far too small, and far too damp from sweat and humidity, to keep anyone cool. But there was no way we were going to miss this. Our son was graduating from High School. 

Over the past few days, I’ve been absorbed by memories. In my mind’s eye, they’re  like mirror fragments cascading to the floor, magically arranging themselves into a mosaic of the last eighteen years:  My first sight of him, at his delivery (“My God,” I thought, “he looks like Winston Churchill!”) The sweetness he exhibited towards his little sister when she was born, and the epic battles later (“Mom, I think Nina needs to go to the Emergency Room.”) Bringing home the new puppy (R.I.P. Clifford, we still miss you). The time when we were watching TV and some politician’s ad came on, and his little voice piped up from the big easy chair across the room: “Who is THIS idiot?” Cub Scout camping trips. Beach weeks. Christmas mornings that used to begin at the crack of dawn (or before) and now begin when we  roust him and his sister out of bed.   Apples to Apples. Trivial Pursuit. Clue (Junior Edition). Life. Legos, Beanie Babies, Nerf, GameBoy, and multi-sided dice.   Mechwarrior, Barney, Pokemon, Yu-Gi-Oh! Spongebob, the Simpsons, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Family Guy, Futurama, the Wire, Samurai Champloo, Samurai Jack, Ninja Warrior, Cops, AFV, Firefly and Buffy. Where the Wild Things Are, Harry Potter, the Dark Elf Trilogy, and The Song of Ice and Fire. Disney, Godzilla, Toy Story, Shrek, Star Wars, Pirates, Tarantino and Kurosawa flicks.  Engrish, webcomics,  DeviantArt, and Japanese TV on YouTube. Baseball, then soccer (including a brief flirtation with being an Arsenal fan), then PS2, Wii, PC games, D & D and a bunch of role playing games I never heard of. The same group of friends (who I affectionately refer to as “your dumb little buddies”) who he’s hung out with since Kindergarten and who now are scattering in all directions.

It seemed to take forever for him to grow up, but now I look back and think “how did it all happen so fast?” Seemingly overnight,  the baby who couldn’t sit up on his own is a brilliant, big-hearted, funny, sarcastic, kind, goofy,  passionate, cynical, opinionated, fiercely talented young man who’s a little like me, a lot like his mom, and a lot like…well, like someone entirely himself. He’s an artist whose work periodically makes me sit up and go “whoa,” and a writer who may, and I say this in all sincerity, kick my ass someday. 

In a couple of months, he’ll be moving out, gone off to a  college of his own choosing. It was a choice which surprised me at first , but which makes perfect sense for him. And that’s a thing that makes me both incredibly proud and a little sad: he’s making his own decisions, and they’re good ones.   Maybe not always what I would have done, but reasonable for him.

In the months and years ahead, he’ll make plenty more decisions: some good, some bad, some probably even incredibly boneheaded. But they’ll be his, not mine, and he’ll own the consequences, both good and bad. All we can do is hope we’ve given him the tools to make the right choices.

I think about 16 year old Abby Sunderland, who was attempting to be the youngest person to sail around the world, and think, as many did after she was rescued from her damaged sailboat, “WTF were her parents thinking?” After all,  I thought, I still get the willies when The Boy takes the car to a friend’s house. Then I realized: I can’t do what I’ve done for years. At various times in the last eighteen years, I’ve been, with tongue in cheek, referring to my son as The Boy. But he’s not The Boy. He can now take it into his head  to do something crazy–sail around the world, hike off to Tibet, marry a Duke fan–and there’s not going to be much I can do except offer what advice I can and try not to say “I told you so” if things go sideways.  At least try not to say it too  much. 

A page is turning. Big changes are coming in all our lives. The Girl is ecstatic at finally getting a bathroom to herself, but I know she’ll miss her hanging-out buddy, her foil, her debate opponent, her (occasionally unasked for) advisor.  I’ll probably be moving my writing stuff into his room, but I know the house is going to seem bizarrely quiet without that booming voice that you can hear clear across the house as he mocks something particularly stupid on TV.  

I know I’ve made mistakes as a parent, and I know there are probably a thousand ways in which I’ve failed him, but I think despite it all, he’s turned into someone of whom we’re intensely proud.

Here’s to you, Nick. No matter how fast or how far away you sail, I hope sometimes you turn your face towards home and think of the people who love you. And remember you always have a safe harbor here. 

25 thoughts on “Turn the Page

  1. PK the Bookeemonster

    Congratulations on raising a man, JD, and sounds like a good one at that. You and your wife should be very proud. Now you can sit back and begin a new journey of enjoying knowing him as a grown up.

  2. billie

    What a gorgeous post! I feel that parenting is a creative endeavor, requiring commitment, devotion, and lots of love in the face of seeing our own flaws made crystal clear in those parenting moments we don’t manage well. It’s wonderful to read your perspective of the culmination of this journey – thank you for sharing it here.

  3. Robert Gregory Browne

    Beautiful post, Dusty. I’ve been through this transition twice now and know exactly how you feel.

    Next comes empty nest. And that’s even tougher.

    But don’t be too quick to move your writing stuff into his room. They resent that kind of thing… Best to wait a couple years until the move from home looks more or less permanent.

  4. Cornelia Read

    Aw, Dusty… Grace just finished junior year, and is off for India today for a month-long trip with her cousin Sasha’s school. Only a year until graduation. Every day with her is a blessing.

    Here’s a toast to you, your wife and daughter, and the young man you’ve all readied to arise, go forth, and conquer. (it’s early yet, here in Cow Hampshire, so I’m toasting you with actual toast, but I think it still counts–especially since you’ve made me all teary-eyed and so so proud to know you with these sublime and lapidary reflections.)

    And of course Winston Churchill once said, "*all* babies look like me."

  5. Jessica Scott

    Wow, JD, what a great and poignant post. You brought tears to my eyes. I’m still amazed at how fast my oldest has turned 5 and being military, those moments you mentioned are all the more important because I’ve missed so many of them.
    Thank you for sharing this milestone in your life. It was incredibly touching.


  6. Judy Wirzberger

    My friend cried for three days after her son left for college. And another three days before he went back after Christmas break. She said she was tired of having to cook again.

    the rites of passage reach inside and squeeze our hearts – the years pass – and, truthfully, it only gets better.

  7. Allison Davis

    whoa. Not fair bringing tears so early in the morning. Beautiful, beautiful piece, and it’s all about writing, the past and the future. Really, really great. Married my brother off this weekend and know how that stream of nostagia goes, during which spent time with my 14 year old niece (I am an "evil auntie" in a good way) who I hadn’t seen in six years. Was great to see family in her and how smart she had become. I envy your contentment and trepidation. Congrats.

  8. pari noskin taichert

    Ah, man, Dusty. I’m crying. Mine will be where yours are right now too soon. Even watching the transitions they made this summer has me grabbing every moment I can with them. It’s already going by too quickly.

  9. Eika

    Congratulations to you and your son.

    And leave his room alone for the first year. He’ll want it to be reassuring and familiar when he first comes home. I’m going off to my third year of college soon, and the main thing I’m glad of when I come home, besides my parents and doggies being there, is that I still have my room.

  10. anonymous

    J.D. It’s OK if you move your writing stuff into his room TEMPORARILY while he is gone. I think that is kind of sweet. It will help you miss him less. Just don’t leave your writer’s carbon footprint behind. Be ready to vacate on a few days’ notice. Remember he will be back for Thanksgivings and Winter Breaks and Spring Breaks and summers. Everyone is right about this one thing. Kids like to come back to THEIR room. It’s where they did all of their dreaming and planning and growing. It’s sacred space. Don’t mess with it or ever try to clean it out until he gets his own apartment and even then it can be dicey. My 23 year old just announced that his roommates are driving him bats with all of their drunken bingeing and disgusting filthy ways (that killed me, he ain’t no Martha Stewart) and he doesn’t want to spend $1000 a month for a bedroom and he is moving back in November. Damn. Just when I thought all was clear to turn his room into an artist studio.

    Congrats on having been a good little daddy. That is really totally marvelous. You have raised a man. Whew! The rest of the world thanks you for your contribution.

    (and stop calling him The Boy and his friends ‘your dumb little buddies’. or he really WILL kick your ass……..and not just at writing) : – )

  11. Zoë Sharp

    Hey Dusty

    Wonderful post, and creating something and watching it grow – with the good times and the bad – IS all about writing. Congratulations to your whole family on surviving the experience with such grace.

    I can still remember moving out from my parents’ 42ft catamaran. I arrived home one day and they said, "Hey, we sold the boat. Where are you going to live? Oh, and can you paint your hull before you go…?"

  12. Allison Brennan

    Wow, what a salute to your son, and well-deserved. I think about endings and beginnings a lot as my kids grow up. And I think about wanting to keep my kids safe vs. wanting them to live their own lives. It’s a balance I don’t know if I’m ready for! I remember when my oldest was first born, and I was terrified. I thought that every decision I made was going to screw her up for life :/ . . . but we can only do our best. But those early years . . . now she tells me she wants to go skydiving for her 18th birthday (less than 2 years away) and she has a boyfriend (who fortunately–for them–I like him) and she’s smart and athletic and I love spending time with her (though sometimes I have to remind her that I’m her mom first . . . )

    Congrats to Nick. He sounds amazing 🙂

  13. KDJames / BCB

    Oh geez. Not enough that I cried through both my kids’ HS and college graduations, now I have to cry over your kid too?

    I think one of the best feelings as a parent is realizing that not only do you love your kids, you genuinely like the people they have become. Congratulations on achieving that. But fair warning, by the end of the summer, you will be more than ready for him to leave already and go off to college. This is a very tough transition you’ve got coming up. Almost as tough as the first time he comes home on break after getting a taste of all that freedom. I cringe on your behalf.

    And yeah, wait a bit with the takeover of the room. Not so much for his sake, but for yours. They do come back. Really.

    I hope you didn’t make the mistake of taking your kids camping when they were little and showing them how much fun it could be to eat camp food and sleep on hard lumpy ground. Because then they graduate from college and get these crazy ideas about camping and hiking their way through BEAR country. Who, me? Worried? No, not at all. I love it when my daughter sends text messages that say, "Mom, we saw the cutest grizzly bear cubs today!"

    I’m telling you, hold out for that Duke fan instead.


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