Gretchen L. Kelly, Author

To My Son, On Graduating From Middle School

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Today I watched you grow up a little bit more. That’s how it seems to happen. Not in gradual ways that seem to slowly evolve, but in quick and sudden bursts. Shocking me each time you enter a room and seem completely different from the boy who walked out of the room moments earlier.

Today I watched you walk across a stage and say good bye to Middle School. They said your entire name with emphasis on each word. Giving me a little shiver as I thought of your uncle Todd who is your namesake. I watched you accept your certificate with a firm handshake, the handshake of a confident man. And you sauntered back to your seat with a quiet and easy smile on your face. Your gold tassle honor roll chord draped around your neck. My heart was full of pride and my eyes were full of tears as I swallowed nervously and tried to keep my emotions in check.

In the past year I’ve watched you grow roughly five inches in height and miles in maturity. I’ve seen you develop close friendships with some really nice kids. I’ve watched you shrug off the trappings of popularity in exchange for real friends. I’ve seen you offer to help around the house and help take care of your little sister. I’ve watched you take responsibility and ownership of your school work. The honor roll tassle you wore on graduation day was earned all on your own.

I’ve seen glimpses of the man you’ll be.

And he’s amazing and beautiful and good.

I’ve watched you get angry at the injustices that flash across the evening news. I’ve seen you question things that are happening in the world. I’ve seen you take an interest in things well beyond the little bubble you’ve been so fortunate to inhabit all these years. I’ve answered your thoughtful questions about these things. Questions that speak to your depth of understanding and your concerns. I’ve seen you care about things and people you’ve never met and who are different and far removed from your world.

And I couldn’t be more proud.

But I’m also scared. In a few short months you will be taking a huge step to more independence and autonomy. You will be walking through the halls of high school for the first time. You will getting your driver’s permit. You will be starting to plan for college and life beyond that.

And you will be coming up against some pretty big road blocks. Temptations. Peer pressures. Stress of tests that carry more weight than ever before. Girls. Love. Heartbreak. All of these will be distractions from everything you’re working towards. Some of them are worthwhile distractions. You should have fun with your friends. You should start to flirt a little with romance and love. You should push the boundaries a little. Just a little.

As you start to move a little more away from your dad and me, as you start to become a more independent person making decisions big and small, I’d like to share a few things with you. Before you shut out my advice and my words, please listen to a mother’s desperate attempt to squeeze all the wisdom and love and fear and happiness she is overwhelmed with, into a few words.

Remember what matters. You are the only one who can decide what matters to you. And once you do, don’t let anything get it the way of that.

Listen to your gut. It will never lead you astray. If you can tune in to what it’s trying to tell you, even in the noise of life and temptations and pressures, you will find a built in compass that you can rely on for the rest of your life.

Know when to make your voice heard. Don’t be afraid to speak your mind or stand up for what you believe. But also learn when it’s a waste of energy and time.

Always open doors for others and give up your seat for others. 

Don’t be afraid to feel. Life will hurt sometimes. But don’t let that be a reason to go numb or shut down. That never works and it will come back to you sideways and cause more pain. Feel all the stuff and let it happen and move on lighter and happier for it.

Being vulnerable is ok. In fact, it’s good. But only when it’s with the people you trust. Sharing your thoughts and your pain and your fears with the people who love you will ease your burden and allow people to be closer to you. It will be the greatest gift of intimacy you will someday give the person you spend your life with.

Work hard. But work smart. Quantity of time working doesn’t always equal quality. Figure out what methods work for you and employ them. This will serve you well in life and work.

Be a good friend.

Let go of perfection. Perfection is boring. Mistakes will happen. Twisting and turning in an attempt to avoid mistakes is futile. Do your best and accept the mistakes as lessons and grow from them.

Don’t be afraid to fall in love. It’s the most beautiful thing you’ll experience. It will sometimes bring incredible pain but you will get through that. It is worth it and life without it will be less rich.

Be patient with a mom who struggles with the emotions of watching her little boy grow into a man.

Find your passion. It may be your career. It may be a hobby or another enterprise. But find it and find a way to nurture it.

Work for money and for joy. Find a job you love. Find something that doesn’t make you dread Monday. But also find something that gives you some comfort and stability in life. Find the balance of the two and live there. Money doesn’t buy happiness but a life of poverty and hardship is not an easy road.

Don’t text and drive.

Know that confidence will come and go. It will sometimes be out of your grasp. This is normal. No one feels confident and self assured all the time. Some of us are just good at faking it. 

Be aware of toxic people and learn how to spot them. Don’t let them infiltrate your life and corrupt you or suck out all the life and joy. Darkness is a hungry beast and toxic people will try to bring you into their disfunction. Don’t let them.

Remember that you have an army of people who are rooting for you to win, who are here for you, who love you. Your dad and me, your siblings, your grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins. You will have this core group of people in your corner for life. That is a gift and a blessing and it will never fail you.

Give your mom a hug once in a while.

Treat the women you will one day let into your life with respect and honor. Don’t ever minimize their feelings or their voice. 

Remember that your dad and me will be here for you for anything and everything. There’s nothing you can’t tell us and there’s nothing that will ever make us turn our back on you. There’s nothing that will ever take away our love. Ever.

Enjoy the ride. The ups will be amazing and the downs will be hard but it’s a beautiful and glorious ride.

I’m so proud of you. I know you will do right. I know you will do good.

And if you remember nothing else, remember this…

Take care of yourself. And have fun.





37 Responses

  1. This was beautiful and made me cry.

    And also laugh a bit. Interjecting things like “don’t text and drive” or “give your mom a hug once in a while.”

    I feel such a responsibility to help shape my son into the best man possible. Is that a stronger impulse than one has with a daughter? If so, I wonder why?

    Your son sounds amazing. I’m sure he’ll live up to the legacy of who he was named for. xoxoxo

    1. Thank you my friend. The impulse is just as strong with a daughter though in some ways the sentiments are different. There are a few things I would have to add for my daughter. Although, the inherent power that men have in our society makes some of this more pressing. Now you’ve got me thinking… There is definitely the urge to raise a sensitive strong boy who will have compassion and treat women (and people in general) well. I think as parents we have to work harder to bring out the nurturing side of our boys because society is doing everything to shut that down.

      And I just reread the comment and finally saw what you were saying in your last sentence. You got me. Now I’m crying. Thank you. Thank you so much for always getting it. <3

      1. That’s it! You articulated it for me. We have to work harder to bring out the nurturing sensitive side in our boys, because of the garbage society feeds them. We have to help them redefine what it is to be a “man” because they get too much wrong information.

        I adore you, lady. xoxoxo

  2. Bittersweet, isn’t it? Your words will remain wrapped and written round his heart throughout his lifetime . . . Such a beautiful gift. Now I need to go find a Kleenex 🙂

    1. Oh, I hope. I hope he reads it and absorbs what I’m trying to say to him. That’s always the challenge with teens… And it is so bittersweet. To feel so proud and so excited for his future but to want to cling to him and not let him grow up… sigh. Thank you for your sweet words.

  3. Huge, happy, hopeful tears. My son is only 6 but these are the exact words I hope to say to him in a few years. Some of them he might have the attention span for now. You’re a great mom. <3

  4. This is lovely, Gretchen. My son will start middle school in the fall and at his graduation we were mostly just happy he didn’t belch. It sounds like you are raising an amazing young man. 🙂

  5. Beautiful, beautiful. How hard it is to watch our children grow up. I agree with your advice but the two that stuck with me are trusting your gut (where I always look when I’m struggling) and to share you story to connect with others. That’s new. As in, I don’t see it on a lot of these lists. But I like it. That’s what this blogging thing is, right?

    1. Thank you! It is SO hard to watch them grow up. But so amazing and sweet at the same time. And I included the one about opening up and sharing feelings because I think men especially are taught to always be tough and stoic and unemotional. I don’t think it’s fair to boys/men. I know when my husband’s really opened up to me about things it’s brought us closer together, helped me understand him better and it’s helped him to talk about it. It makes me sad that society puts those kinds of constraints on boys and men…

    1. Thank you so much for your kind and sweet words. I hope he’s proud of me. More than that I hope he knows how proud I am of him. I made him read this and I will say he has been giving me more hugs since then, so that makes this mom very happy. 🙂

  6. Well.

    I’m in tears here. My son just finished elementary school and the time has flown by. I imagine this will be me in just three very short years and I want to remember these words and think that I will because they sound so much like the same things I would say to my own son.

    Gretchen, your son is a very blessed young man. He has two parents that have raised him well, given him as much in the way of values as you have in love. It sounds like he’s off to a strong start in life.

    I’m proud of him with you and I wish him congratulations and nothing but the best in the next few years which I hope will be an incredible time for having some fun and making fantastic memories.

    1. Thank you my friend. And when you’re teary and weepy over your son moving on to high school I will be here to offer you a shoulder. And I swear, Middle School FLEW by. I know people say that all the time but this one really threw me for a loop. You and Samara and I will be going through it at the same time when our kids are going in to high school. (My daughter is starting middle school in the fall too) This just occurred to me that we all have kids the same age!

  7. Sniff, sniff!! *blows nose. This was so beautiful, Gretchen!!! You must be so proud of him!! It reminds me of how I felt and still feel about my 21 year old who has grown into an amazing young man. I recall his graduation from middle school, high school and next year, college. There is nothing like a mother-son bond. 🙂

    1. That’s so true. Our boys… they have a hold on our hearts don’t they? I’m still trying to figure out how you actually let them move away and go to college… And now you have one graduating college next year? I can’t even imagine.

  8. TEARS! We had our end-of-year kindergarten ceremony today (even though there’s another week of school) and oh wow. The whole having grown between exiting and re-entering a room? Yup. Gorgeous letter, Gretchen! Truly.

    1. Thank you so much Kristi! I don’t think anyone can really prepare you for the emotions and the shock of watching your child grow up. There have been times over the past year where my son will leave the room and my husband and I will look at each other with tears in our eyes. It hits us both at the same time. I have a little one who just “graduated” from Kindergarten too. I want to freeze her at this age because it’s such a fun age! Sigh…

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