Where a Parent Really Is During Graduation

In a few days my son will graduate from High School and I won’t be there.  Well, physically I will be.  But I can’t account for my mind.  It will be wandering across acres of memories, reconstructing a captivating story of the boy we called Beagle.

Regular readers will recall that my boy-raising road was paved with its share of challenges.  But as it happens when one reaches the end of a worthwhile journey, the recollection of events, once digested, magically morphs into a more palatable version of a fairytale, complete with villains, heroes, and happy endings.

It’s only in hindsight that we’re able to connect dots that were laid down like a breadcrumb trail, solely for the purpose of finding our way back to that place we started in where pure, unadulterated love between parent and child reigned.

In real-time, when a child of ours declares his hate for his parents, we might crumble in despair.  When he fails a class, we might worry. When he suffers an injustice at the hands of a friend, we feel the hurt tenfold.  But when we watch him graduate amidst the pomp and circumstance, we see the culmination of all the horrifying and glorifying circumstances that brought him to this point.  The big picture in review makes sense.  He had to struggle some, and we had to suffer some in order to arrive at this moment of sweet relief and joy.

When one’s child graduates, there is a strange phenomenon of vulnerability that occurs during which any incident may elicit a poignant memory.  As this is not my first ‘Mother of a Graduate’ season, I recognize and welcome the anticipatory swell of emotions that shows up at random, unpredictable times.  Whilst bakery clerks may be caught off-guard by a suddenly tearful woman staring foggily into a pastry case because she’s thinking of the precious boy who used to accompany her there for treats, I am blissfully unaffected by my state of emotional undress.  There’s just no telling what catalyst will set off the waterworks in the weeks surrounding the launching of a child, and one can’t be bothered with corralling all those feelings.

Husband recognizes that I’m off-center and, wisely, doesn’t try to talk me out of tears.  Instead, we reminisce about our shared history with Beagle as if we’re discussing something that happened in the span of a day.  We talk about the tender way our son loved his dog and grieved its passing; the summer he patiently taught his sister how to ride a bike and dive into a swimming pool; the funny time at the store when the cashier handed him change and he pressed it back into her hand while whispering, grandma-style, ‘Go buy yourself an ice cream.’

These memories sustain us. The pits and peaks, the joy and pain are equal parts of the perfection.  It’s a mind-boggling miracle, really, this people-raising gig.  Somehow, the process unfolds exactly as it should, every time, resulting in unparalleled fulfillment of life.

Husband, insensitive creature that he is, presents a metaphor that brings me to my knees.  “Beagle’s life,” he explains, “is a train ride that we were on.  We’ve arrived at our stop.  It’s time to let him continue on without us.”  I envision myself on a train station platform, handkerchief waving and heart aching as my baby boy disappears around the bend. 

Husband tries comforting me with more analogies which only serves to open the wound.  He suggests that we’ve programmed the GPS up to this point, but now it’s Beagle’s turn to set the destination.  Lucky for us, he has proven that he’s competent in finding his way and surviving the inevitable travails of an adventure. Like the time when he and his friends decided to buy an old camper and take it to a concert for the weekend with less than $50 between them in their pockets.  I’ll leave the details to the imagination, but allow me to emphasize the point that Beagle did not once feel the need to call his parents for assistance.

Beagle will not likely recall his life the way I do. He may never understand how how his choices worried me, how his humor rescued me, or how his questions entertained me.  He won’t know how I doubted myself at every juncture and prayed continuously for guidance.  This is all ok with me, as long as he knows that he was, is, and always will be loved beyond measure.

The time has finally come for Beagle to claim the independence he has craved since before he could walk.  I have no choice but to trust that he’s ready.  As I sit amidst a crowd of loved ones at the graduation ceremony, I will share mutual pangs of longing for days gone by, coupled with indescribable satisfaction in present time.  Husband and I will squeeze each other’s hands a little too tightly, in order to balance the feeling of releasing our hold on the son we love so very, very much.

When all is said and done, after the diploma and handshakes and hugs, I will be replete and wrung out like a wet rag that was saturated with years of uncertainty and gratification during which I raised a young man.  My map of the parenting experience will be updated. The drama will fade and my prior concerns may seem silly.  All that will be left is appreciation for the gift of this child, this marvel who appears before me in a new light.

Advice for the Graduate

hat tossing ceremony at graduation

hat tossing ceremony at graduation

Dear Graduate,

On this occasion we hear a lot, maybe too much, about perseverance and accomplishment.  We endure cliche speeches about blank slates and new horizons.  None of it is untrue.  This is the perfect time to turn regrets into opportunities as you start afresh.

I hope you will use this time to SEE your life, not judge it. Resist the urge to reflect on how you could have been or should have been different. You have always been perfectly you. There are no mistakes. You may want to do things differently in the future and that’s okay. But let the reason be because you love who you’ve become and what you’ve learned – not because you dislike who you used to be.

Be proud if you’ve succeeded in the classroom or on the field.  But be more proud if you’ve walked a path of integrity.  Have you been a good friend?  An honest worker?  A helper?  If you haven’t met with success in these ways, make this your new goal – to be a quality person in the world.  Of all the things you’ve learned over many years, this is the most important.  The world doesn’t care what you do – it has a job for everyone.  But it does need you to bring the best you’ve got.

Value what you’ve been taught but give yourself permission to unlearn.  Loosen your grip on core standards and cookie-cutter expectations.  Embrace the freedom of greeting each new experience with an open mind and a generous heart.

Graduation is magnanimous but it is not the last ending nor the last beginning.  You are an ever-evolving being in an every-changing world.  Stay present.  Let go.  Savor each moment lest you miss your life.

Graduate, you have finished a chapter of your life.  It was a big one.  Remember that it was only part of your story.  May your history inform your future only to the extent that it lends perspective on your choices.

I wish you success by your own measure; joy that cannot contain itself; and love that bursts forth from within you, reflecting in everything and everyone that surrounds you.

The Secret to Life

savor-the-flavorA well-intentioned adult gave our soon-to-be high school graduate this advice: “Savor everything right now. This is the best time of your life!”

This one thought stimulated a frenzy of conversation about what it means to savor. Afraid that she would not grasp the concept and would miss an important passage into young adulthood, Principessa desperately tried to hold on to every Senior experience. One would have thought that she was living the last few breaths of her life the way she attacked each day.

We began to unwind her desperation with the help of our old friend Merriam-Webster who told us to
 savor the best in life: give oneself to the enjoyment of:

As Principessa headed off for her first parentless weekend away with friends, I had to check my emotions in the driveway and remind myself that perhaps I, too, needed to work more on savoring and less on sadness as I prepared to send her off to college.

Of many neighborhood parties that we’ve hosted, this weekend would mark the first at which Principessa wouldn’t be present. Her absence was palpable, to me at least. It’s a strange feeling to be without our family cheerleader.

I was tempted to lament the impermanence of these gatherings, but as I looked around at a field of families laughing and playing, and felt the palpable energy of their joy, I couldn’t deny the completeness of the moment. Life, and happiness, was happening, as it does.

I immersed myself so deeply into the experience, in fact, that I found myself wearing a silly grin from ear to ear. The pitch of his voice. The animation in her face. The sight of frolicking. The sound of laughter. I leaned in and felt it all while simultaneously stepping back to appreciate it.

In this savoring state, I burst forth with a toast of gratitude, “For this!” I said. It was a feeling of love that couldn’t be held be back. I’m fairly certain that at least a couple neighbors wondered how much alcohol I had consumed. But truthfully, I hadn’t had a drop. I was drunk on the moment. I had experienced savoring.

When Principessa returned home, she had a similar tale to share about her carefree time with friends. “I didn’t want the weekend to end because it was SO much fun. But I wasn’t sad either because I enjoyed each moment. I just went with it.”

Principessa discovered, as I did, that savoring is exactly the opposite of holding on. Trying to grasp experiences and freeze time is an exercise in futility that leads to regret. In contrast, being present for this moment, and this moment, and this one…never holding on for longer than it lasts, is the magic formula for savoring.

Be present. Feel. Appreciate. Let go. And life will be savored.

The secret to life is enjoying the passage of time.” James Taylor

%d bloggers like this: