The Rockwood Files: Help! My kid is a senior!

By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

For the second time in our lives, Tom and I have a high school senior in the house. The first time it happened was two years ago, and it was weird. But that was 2020, when everything in the world was weird. Like most events in 2020, our oldest son’s traditional graduation ceremony didn’t happen. Then when it was nearly time to move him into the dorm, his college decided to only offer classes online or the first semester until conditions improved.

Thankfully, things are different now that our middle son, Jack, is a high school senior. Circumstances have drastically improved. And in about six weeks, Jack will wear the navy-blue cap and gown I ordered two years ago for the graduation that wasn’t. (Thanks for nothing, Covid.) And this time we’ll go to an actual building with actual people in it and watch a real, live procession of graduates while Pomp and Circumstance plays on the loudspeaker.

I’m both excited about it and overwhelmed by an impending sense of loss. He’ll move away before the leaves change colors. Before our next Halloween! Do you know how soon that feels? I bet Hobby Lobby is already selling Halloween decorations which means this move is happening in the not-so-distant future. There’s no denying it now.

The thought of having another son leave our house triggers some feelings. So many of them. All the time and all at once. You’d get whiplash if you could see how I ping-pong between happy, sad, proud, fearful, elated, and anxious. Sometimes I just mix all the emotions together into a bittersweet brew and marinate in it for days.

Two years ago during our first son’s graduation season, everything felt like it was eternally stuck on pandemic pause. But this time we’re flying through life on fast-forward. Can I just get things to slow down? Just a little?

The good news is that, after months of searching and deliberation, Jack has finally picked a college. The not-so-good news for his mother? That college is in Michigan – 12 hours away. I know that kids are supposed to grow up and leave the nest. But I was hoping he’d just hop to a nearby tree, not fly off to a forest in a different time zone.

During last week’s spring break, Jack, his dad and his older brother went on a Rockwood road trip to see his chosen school up close and personal. I listened to the campus tour via FaceTime and got updates and photo evidence that this would indeed be a good place for him to live these next four years.

Even though I was hoping he might fall in love with the college that’s only 30 minutes from my driveway, I understand why he needs something different. He wants to move far enough away to prove to himself that he can do it. That he can make it on his own while making new friends. The challenge itself is the exciting (and terrifying) part. I remember being 18 and having a sense of daring and determination that helped me through the life changes that followed graduation.

These past few days, I’ve been helping Jack fill out housing contracts for the dorm, finalize his scholarships and even apply for a study abroad opportunity that’s designed for incoming freshmen. Do you want to hear which country he wants to go to for his study abroad trip? ICELAND.

I don’t even know where Iceland is, but I know there’s no interstate that would get me there. I know it’s floating somewhere in an ocean. Is this kid trying to kill me with his independent spirit? It’s beginning to feel personal.

What I hope this means is that Tom and I have done our job. That we’ve raised him to feel confident enough to carve out his own path, even when it leads to far-off places and new people. Even when it’s scary (especially for moms). As long as he comes back for visits – by plane, train or automobile – I’ll find a way to celebrate these new adventures, too.

Gwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click hereTo check out Gwen’s book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.