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.