Yeah, we’re happy, free, confused, and lonely in the best way
It’s miserable and magical, oh yeah
Tonight’s the night when we forget about the heartbreaks
It’s time, oh-oh

I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling 22
Everything will be all right if you keep me next to you
You don’t know about me, but I’ll bet you want to
Everything will be all right (all right) if we just keep dancing like we’re 22

From “22” by Johan Karl Schuster, Taylor Swift, and Martin Max Sandberg

“Happy, free, confused, and lonely in the best way” are the lyrics that jump out at me in this song. The specific age it evokes—when many people graduate from college—is a pivotal one, and a contradictory one. You’ve been an adult for several years, but in a provisional kind of way. When you leave college and begin to support yourself, you start to feel a lot more adult, or at least I did. And that can be exciting, but also a little scary.

When I left college, I went straight to grad school. Losing no time at all, I started in summer school. My folks weren’t going to pay my bills anymore, but I did get a graduation gift of enough money to buy a computer (a Mac SE I used for more than a decade) and to cover my rent and food until my teaching assistantship in in the Rhetoric department at the University of Iowa started in the fall semester. Beth and I had been dating for two years at this point and we’d moved from Oberlin to Iowa City together. She had a research assistantship in the Education department. We lived in a co-operative group house with ten other people for two years until we finished our master’s degrees and moved to the D.C. area, which was a whole other adventure of young adulthood. Everything felt like an adventure then, sometimes miserable, sometimes magical.

Noah is on the brink of his own adventures now. He graduates from college in two and a half weeks, and he turned twenty-two yesterday. It was a busy day for him. He had an oral presentation in his Machine Learning class, and he worked a shift at his IT job that was at least five hours long. I know this because he was at work when the cupcakes that I had delivered from a local bakery arrived at his apartment at noon and he didn’t get off until five, but he went to his building’s lobby on his break get them.

Finally, in the evening, he had an interview for an internship with a company in Los Angeles that makes film trailers. He said it went pretty well. He’s heading to L.A. just a few days after graduation, whether he gets that internship or not. He has housing through the end of July and his airline ticket is one way, because he doesn’t know when/if he’s leaving or where he’s going when he does. I am finding this unsettling, but I guess that’s my first taste of having a grown child.

Thanks to covid, Noah spent his first two birthdays of college at home, so this is only the second time we’ve been apart on his birthday. It’s probably a good thing it’s not the first time. I have enough transitions to cope with as it is.

I marked his birthday by making a red curry soup with tofu and vegetables the day before. Beth and I went out for Thai the night before he was born, so this some kind of Thai food on his birthday eve is a tradition. I also got a birthday cake pop from Starbucks and made a post of twenty-two pictures of him wearing hats for Facebook, which most of you have probably already seen. It’s captioned: “Steph Lovelady’s son is 22 today. Through the years, he has worn many hats. She can’t wait to see which one he wears next.” I didn’t realize until I made it how much he liked hats when he was little. He was very fond of dress up, which is maybe why as he got older, he made such elaborate Halloween costumes. He can’t see it because he’s not on Facebook, but I’ll show it to him when I see him next.

In addition to the cupcakes, Beth and I got him an Air Tag and some books and North got him a vegetable peeler (these were all was on his list). His grandmothers and aunt got him money, more books, and a citrus juicer, also from his list. We’re also going to get him some sheets, but I haven’t bought them yet because I needed to consult with him about what size he needed and whether he uses a top sheet these days.

He has a little more than a week of classes left. He says his classes and his capstone project (the fictional film about someone who dies by suicide) are going well. Filming is done and he’s editing it. When he finishes, he’ll have a week between the end of classes and graduation so maybe he’ll spend some of it reading, eating peeled vegetables, and drinking fresh-squeezed lemonade on his balcony. I like this image.

Though it’s still strange to be apart from him on the anniversary of the day we came apart in another way, there are familiar things about his birthday. I’d be surprised if he’s ever had a birthday or Christmas without getting books, he’s gotten kitchen tools before, and he’s had cupcakes, too.

There are a lot of changes for him on the horizon, but some things never change.