Friday, June 3, 2016

Graduation, Commencement

Here's what I know: That this time, with my son graduating from high school in a week, feels like an ending. That I am reflecting on what as a parent I did well, and what I could have done better. On things I wish I had told him, but the moment has passed, and on things I want to tell him, but the moment is not yet right, and may never be. I am revisiting old report cards and other school documents that have been released to him, and thus to me, because he doesn't want them, and is not even remotely interested in looking back.

Here's what I know: That he is not even remotely interested in looking back. And why should he be, why would he be? The desire to look back, to reflect, to make sense of accumulated experience, that comes later in life.

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On the same day yearbooks were distributed, he lost his. He has since found it, but only at my prodding. He does not care about yearbooks or mementos or tassels turned to the right or the left.

Ceremonies are always more for the audience than for the participants, aren't they?

While I view graduation as an ending, a time to revisit his childhood as a way of understanding it -- and my part in it -- he views it as a beginning, the unlocking of a door to the rest of his life. I see graduation, he sees commencement: the start. The start of adulthood.

Both perspectives are valid, of course, but how little they overlap.

I feel sadness, nostalgia, pride.

He feels excitement, anticipation, fear.

Between us we are covering the entirety of the emotional spectrum.

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"Does it really go that fast?" asked the parent of a first grader, after I told her that my son's last day of high school was today. "Yes," I replied, and smiled. With her fingers she mimicked the course of tears running down her face, and then she looked meaningfully at her first grader, and at his younger brother, visiting his older brother at school so that the two might eat lunch together.

I realized then that I have crossed a line and become a caricature, the older woman in the supermarket who taps young mothers on their shoulders with no purpose other than to inform them of how quickly it all goes. I used to think that people who did that were somehow judging me, or my parenting, as one or the other of my (then little) boys was squirming in the shopping cart, whining, or worse, throwing a full-fledged tantrum.

But now I believe that these strangers were just remembering their own days raising children, and wishing to have back some of those odd days that taken one at a time seemed to last years but taken together lasted mere minutes. These strangers, they were not in fact talking to young mothers in the supermarket but rather to themselves.

As I will now do, as I must: the circle of life, and all that. As my son will do what he must, because he has arrived at the beginning of that part of his life where he gets to (or has to) choose nearly everything for himself. It is not unlike the moment when you are jogging alongside your small child as he pedals awkwardly on his brand-new bike. You've got one of your hands as a support on the seat of the bike, but then you and he, you make an unspoken decision that he is ready, and you raise up your hand. Both of you are equal parts surprised and giddy to see that he continues on, wobbly but less so by the second, and then his back is to you, and he is going, going, gone.

If you're lucky enough to have remembered the camera, you take a picture, and that picture never fails to make you smile at the memory. It is only much later that you realize, with some bemusement and more pride, that after you removed your hand he never checked to see whether you stayed there, watching him, waiting for him.

4 comments:

Becky said...

Beautiful and all too true, Sarah!

Angie McCullagh said...

Oh my. Gorgeously said. I'll be there in five years. Gulp.

Christine said...

Oh Sara. Bittersweet.

Mary Gilmour said...

Yes. Flapping wings have left the nest, leaving behind only a little fluff. (Every time the YD leaves, I end up with all the stuff she isn't taking. Every time the YD leaves, she comes back.) You will love watching him soar, and worry over each thermal and wind shear. So will he, but you will probably not know that for years.
I love this description. I love your writing and your huge, all-encompassing heart.