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So Long My Graduate

I woke up yesterday grumpy.  That’s right. Grumpy.  It was graduation day for my son.   Almost 18 years of mothering and in some ways, according to custom, it was all supposed to culminate in this.  The ceremony, the cap and gown, the beaming face.  Lets set aside the fact that it has been the rainiest month I can remember since my twins were born 9 years ago.  Rain gets to you after a while.  You want to see sunshine on a graduation day.

But here was the sort of astonishing thing.  As I sat at the ceremony– my butt planted on the cold , hard concrete of the outdoor football bleachers, the thoughts that ran through my head weren’t ones of motherly pride and contentment.  Instead, all of the lingering dialogue that rang inside my head called everything that I had ever done as a mother into question.  Had I been a good enough mother? I began to silently panic, as I regretted my previous smugness at a job well done.  I realized it was too late.

As I listened to the well-crafted speech from the valedictorian, the perky delivery from the saludatorian, the essay contest winner, I thought to myself.  Did I make my son work hard enough? Should we have had those “word of the day” calendars by the toilet?    What about his SAT words, was his vocabulary good enough?

As I relaxed into the beautiful piano medley from my friend’s son and the solo vocal accompaniment, I felt fingers of failure creep up my back.  Should I have MADE them take piano lessons longer, insisted that he stay in the church choir?  What about acting, he never really got exposed to that.  And art, I knew he didn’t exhibit much talent in that area,  but maybe I hadn’t done enough puzzles with him as a child?

As I stared at the roster of childrens’ names who were graduating,  many had awards and scholarships next to their name.  Had I not known my son could apply for these?    In all the overhwleming mail and emails from the high school,  had I missed something?  Could he have won some special award, a commendation that would set him up for a life-time of success?

What I realized, as I laughed at myself later, was that this wasn’t about my son.  For eighteen years, my son had gradually nudged me toward mothering him.  He had self-selected the things he liked to do, his strengths and weaknesses, his interests and non-interests.  It was me who was at sea here;  me who was watching her little boy as he sat, figeting in the funny black gown and absurd mortarboard, it was me who didnt want to let him go.

I was the one trying to make peace that after this simple ceremony, with all these wonderful and accomplished friends of his, I would be letting a little piece of him slip away.  This was one more shred of evidence that my son had defined himself, set out his perameters, defined his profile in the world as he took one large step away from the nest.

The rain held off until the ceremony was just about over.  The kids threw their hats in the air.  There was hugging and photos and smiles and a sprinkle of tears here and there.  And I as I walked across the turf field toward the high school for some punch and cookies, a little of the grumpiness broke loose and washed away.  It was me, I realized, who didn’t want to give him up, who wasn’t quite done mothering him, who still wanted to polish an edge, find a new skill, hear another story, to gain more insight into that often quiet son. But now I would have to be ready.  He was ready.  And no matter how far he roamed, I’d always be his mom — perfect or imperfect as my mothering was.


  1. Cheryl

    June 22, 2009 at 12:01 am

    Having sent two off to college, and watching one graduate from that college, I can tell you that your post touched me. We are always mom’s. And I agree, I always have those same questions…. did I encourage them enough, should I have pushed them a bit more. As I look at them, I can tell you that they are the most amazing human beings. I am so proud of who they are, and like yours, they have had to endure a tragedy with their dad. He has been diagnosed with a rare form of dementia. We have given them the tools…. and the love. That is what they need.

  2. Luann Davidson

    June 22, 2009 at 3:40 am

    It’s the final moments of Father’s Day in our quiet Ohio town. Since I started your latest book last week I have been randomly choosing chapters – like a midnight buffet. So delightful. When I awoke this morning I thought to myself “This will probably be the last Father’s Day that Dad remembers who I am”. It cannot be just a coincidence that tonight I chose “My Dad’ to close out my day. Although I imagined it would be a tribute to a wonderful father, little did I know that you were also witnessing the transition of your father; your descriptions of your dad’s trip to the Post Office were spot on. My sibilngs and I are mirrored in the lines you write. I have described watching the decline of my father, a learned Indiana gentleman farmer, as the darkest days of my life. Thank you for writing so honestly, for leaving out the unneccessary sanguine touches. Our goal is to continue to honor our father by assuring him the highest quality of life – with the tremendous amount of dignity that he so deserves. As always, I will close my day praying for those with dementia and for those that love them. Thank you again.

  3. Shara

    June 22, 2009 at 4:49 am

    Ugh.. How I’m not ready for all of this. One more year, thank goodness.

    It’s so good to listen to someone else who’s gone before me. =)

  4. regina

    June 22, 2009 at 2:40 pm

    good reminder for this mom: the clock is ticking …. & you do — in fact — run out of time.

    congrats to you & your family.

    – r

  5. Dawn

    June 22, 2009 at 2:45 pm

    Lee – I think you just validated everything a mom feels, even if some of us are not quite to HS graduation yet… my litmus test of being a good mom (when I get to this milestone) will be that I get to be my children’s best friend when all is said and done. My mom was that to me when I graduated, and I miss her every day. It sounds like you are well on your way to that achievement too.

  6. Molly

    June 22, 2009 at 3:14 pm

    I am always very crabby when these kind of events happen and inevitably at every child’s birthday. I now anticipate this and work hard not to make my kids feel like it’s their fault.
    This year, my daughter was away at college for her 19th birthday and I grieved so much not sharing the day with her.
    Instead, I try to reward my husband and myself for getting through these years–and although hardly perfect–doing the best job that we can.
    And champagne always helps!

  7. Annette

    June 22, 2009 at 10:24 pm


    In June, 2003 I had the same feelings. Wait until August when you take your son to college and leave him – the concerns and feelings you had on his graduation day will be nothing compared to that day! Do not say good-bye, tell him “I love you – see you soon” and walk away. Hold the tears for the trip home.

    It’s been 6 years and she is a thrieving young lady! Happy, healthy and successful in her own right.

  8. Mark Thomson

    July 14, 2009 at 5:46 pm

    I am a fellow Colgate grad (’79) and have in the past three years, sent two sons off to college (both to Boston College, my wife’s alma mater). It is heart breaking and affirming at the same time. Our goal was to encourage independence and inquisitiveness in these boys. Why then are we surprised and afraid when it finally happened? Great question, huh? In addition, my wife and I grew up near Lake George (in Hudson Falls) and spent our summers on the lake.

    With these small things in common, we have read with great interest your accounts of your family’s life before and after your husband’s horrific injuries sustained in Iraq. With that being said, we were immediatedly drawn to the Parade supplement in, our Plattsburgh, NY newspaper, which featured your husband and daughters on the cover. Much to our dismay, one short paragraph broke our hearts. You see, while heartbreak struck your family in 2006, it came to us 12 years earlier in 1984. While I was in dental school in Buffalo, our first son, Matthew, was born with Down Syndrome. He was born, and will remain forever, mentally retarded.

    So, reading your words “Despite its prevalence, brain injury bears a stigma. To many of the uninitiated, a person with TBI equals “slow” or “retarded” ended my ability and desire to relate to you. Of course, your husband’s injury is relatively recent and your scope is narrow. I have had the advantage of 25 years of perspective. May I suggest that you be very careful and more sensitive of referring to others people’s children/loved ones as bearing a stigma. It’s not like we don’t already feel the hurt, we just don’t want to have the wound reopened.

  9. Lynn Rapone

    August 14, 2009 at 12:59 pm

    I have just finished your second book and loved it. That’s why I was on your website and reading your blogs. I’m not much of a blog person. I loved both your books. Your stories about your children and your life are great. I have 6 children ages 24 to 9. The older one graduated 2 years ago from college. I have two in college now, one starting in September. Even though my children don’t go away to school there is still a sense of them “going off” on their own. You have to let them go off and hope all the nagging and mothering you did will work. Believe me, it does the first time you hear your kid sound like you. My older daughter has become me! You can’t worry about what you didn’t do, like you said applying for scholarships or not, but the way this is not a boy thing, girls are more proactive than boys. I have 4 boys and I can see this. Sometimes it’s hard as a mother to sit back and watch them have to learn the hard way. This makes them stronger and better people. I am not one of those “helicopter moms”. I believe they have to learn to do things on their own. I make them all do there own laundry, get a job and pay for things they need. This teaches them responsibility. After all, isn’t that what parenting really is. Sending responsible people out in the world to hopefully do something more than you did. After all is said and done and your children are grown and if they received awards all through their life or not to me this isn’t important. My third child just graduated from high school and is going to college now. She was so disappointed when she did not get into the National Honor Society. She missed it by 1/10 of a point. I told her that this does not define her and in my eyes she will always be wonderful not matter what. I could go on forever with things I have read in your book that are similar to mine. Thanks for making me laugh and cry at times. By the way I read your first book in less than 24 hours, which is a big deal for a mother of 6 and I finished your new book last night. Took my time– 5days. Thanks Lee.

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