Graduation: A Mother's Perspective
Today I got to feel what it is like to have your last baby graduate from high school. I also got to feel what it is like to have that event happen in the middle of social distancing and virtual celebrations. Would I feel any different if his graduation had been held in the same outdoor football stadium as his siblings before him? Probably not.
Let’s make one thing perfectly clear. I am not a sentimentalist. Don’t get me wrong: I can cry at movies, suffer along with those that are hurting, and I cherish my friends and family openly. However, I am a strong-willed stubborn woman who doesn’t take crap from anyone. I think tears are a waste of precious bodily fluid and feeling sorry for oneself is for the weak.
Now, I find myself with this heavy feeling in my chest, tear ducts at the ready, my thoughts spinning overtime. It is almost a physical pain, this sensation of an ending to such a long journey. I am trying to tell myself that it is just the beginning, but to not acknowledge my own truth, my own spin on things, would be a lie of the cruelest sort. Best to get it out in the open and then swallow it whole, this bittersweet pill.
Five. That is how many children I have. My first was born when I was twenty, and the last one came 24 years later. Quite a spread, don’t you think? Since the birth of my firstborn, my child rearing days have numbered 15,143 exactly. This can also be expressed as 363,432 hours or 21,805,920 minutes. Let that soak in for a minute.
On each of those 15, 143 days I was responsible for any number of tasks as associated with being a mother, from the mundane to the exciting. Cooking. Cleaning. Changing diapers. Washing clothing. Transportation. Shopping. Arranging sleepovers, play-dates, sporting events, doctor appointments, dentist visits, haircuts, parent-teacher conferences, and driver’s education. Mending split lips, scraped knees, and bruised egos. Nursing through the sorrow of a few lost loves and countless lost pets.
I listened. I gave advice, and sometimes got advice back (not all of it was welcomed, but that is one of the stipulations of being a parent is that you are going to have those moments). I made sure that we celebrated birthdays and milestones and achievements. I taught them the best that I could, and I reveled in each of the endless accomplishments that I have been a witness to while watching my amazing children evolve into incredible adults.
Through all of this, I was so needed. I was a vital part of their lives, and when they were infants I was actually crucial to their survival. Some days throughout the years I was needed more than others, but I was always needed in a tangible, solid way. Then came today and with today came something I was totally unprepared for.
As I watched the virtual graduation ceremony online, face after face paraded by on the screen, each face a now grown child being handed a ticket to the universe, unlimited potential in every molecule of their being. Their parents had done their jobs, and now it was down to each graduate to make their way in the world. To fly, perhaps to soar – all on their own, little birdies leaving the proverbial nest. Then my son’s face filled the screen and his name was announced.
It suddenly occurred to me that I was no longer vital to anyone other than myself. This last child, or should I say adult, was the last thread of the line that tethered me to how I thought of myself every waking moment for 15,143 days. So much of who I am is wrapped up in that history of being needed, of being essential. Talk about existential angst: Who am I, if not a full-time mother? Where will I end up? When will I give in to the realization that I am going to be alone? Why do I feel this way? What will I do now?
Every single one of my children, down to this last one, no longer has to rely on me if they choose not to. This is true.
It is also true that while they have this option, and some have had it longer than the others, they choose to continue to let themselves rely on me. Granted, not in the same way. They don’t need me to feed them or clothe them or drive them around anymore. They have chosen to let themselves need me for other, more important things. Things like comfort, companionship, and love.
So basically, I have answered my own questions.
Who am I, if not a full-time mother? “Well, silly question dear, because you will always be a full-time mother. Your children are still your children and they always will be.”
Where will I end up? “Another silly question, dear. None of us truly know where we end up, and is that really the point? The fun is in the journey, not the destination, so enjoy the ride with the top down and the wind in your hair. Besides, it gives people something to talk about.”
When will I give in to the realization that I am going to be alone? “Now, dear, you really are being silly. You are only as alone as you want to be, and remember the days when you longed for just a moment of solitude? Just sayin’.”
Why do I feel this way? “Because you do. Allow yourself to feel bad or sad without having to make any excuses or to have any reasons. Maudlin moments bring emotional healing.“
What will I do now? “Ah, that is an easy one. The same thing you have been doing all along – loving your kids and being there for them – with extra time to write, explore, or volunteer. Because, dear, you are being handed a ticket to the universe and you have unlimited potential in every molecule of your being.”
Congratulations to all of you spectacular parents of this graduating class – whether it be high school or college – who may be feeling some of the same things.
A HUGE congratulations to the class of 2020 for persevering in the face of adversity. Well done, children, well done.