Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Graduation Day-A Different Perspective

June 13, 2017

Last week’s end of the school year was a whirlwind, and I’m just now finally having a moment to sit and reflect.  The baby girl graduated, and she did it in style.  With it came the usual senior celebration fare:  awards ceremonies, Grad Nite, Sober Grad, graduation parties, and lots of family and friends to cheer her on.  At the actual graduation ceremony, she and her classmates symbolically and publicly bid farewell to their now-alma mater and set feet firmly on the proverbial path to their futures.

I’ve always bristled at hearing folks say that the kids enter “the real world” after high school.  The real world is whatever world one inhabits, and students inhabit the very real world of high school for a time.  Once they’ve run that gauntlet, they enter a new world, but it is not one any more real than their previous four years.  It is, simply, their next new world for a time.  We all have many new real worlds that we enter throughout our lives: new schools, new jobs, new relationships, new mother- or fatherhood, new retirement.  Each step along the path becomes our new normal.  The new normal, Danielle’s next reality, is college, and all the hope, promise, excitement, and even anxiety that will bring.

In this new reality, she’ll be finding out who she is becoming as a young adult.  She’ll be leaving the relative safety net of parental dependence to begin the exhilarating and sometimes incredibly frustrating process of becoming truly independent.  While I hope that there are big decisions she’ll still bring to me for help and guidance, there are a whole host of decisions and choices that she’ll make entirely on her own—for which she and she alone will bear the fruit or the consequences.  I have faith that she has the tools to be true to herself and make good decisions, but we all stumble sometimes.  She will stumble.  I also have faith that she has the tools to pick herself up, dust herself off, and continue forward when that happens.

In thinking about Danielle’s new reality, though, I have to stop and recognize that this is not just Danielle’s new normal.  She is my last, as I have said, to graduate from high school.  For many parents, this is a cause for celebration.  (Empty nest! Time to set up that craft room or the new man-cave!)  For some parents, it’s almost a time of mourning.  (Empty nest? What will I do without my babies?)  For me, I would be lying if I said it wasn’t a little bit of both.  But it’s more than just an empty nest, isn’t it?  It’s not just about freed up space in a home.  It’s about identity.  For nearly twenty years, from Child One to Child Three, I have been the mom of a school-aged child.  While that hasn’t been the whole of my identity, it did comprise the vast majority of who I was and what I did in those years—as I felt it should.  As I wanted it to be.  I have met and even befriended many of my children’s teachers, and together we have both commiserated with each other on occasion and celebrated my children’s progress.  I have coached soccer and Destination Imagination, I have attended more choir, robotics, and sporting events that I could possibly count.  I have made late night runs to Target to purchase poster board for the project that was due tomorrow (Tomorrow?? Are you serious??), and I have hosted slumber parties and study sessions.  I have been a study partner and a proofreader; I have chaperoned field trips and logged countless miles in the mom taxi.  I have fretted with them when they were struggling in classes, and I have rejoiced with them over hard-earned grades and well-deserved accolades.  I have become ‘bonus mom’ to a number of children I did not birth, but who have become part of my family at the side of my own children through the years.  Along the way, at every turn, I tried to emulate and model positivity, good decision-making, forgiveness, flexibility, open-mindedness, balance, joy.  I didn’t always succeed in these, but I hope I did more often than I did not.  I hope with all of the lessons they learned from books in school, they also learned lessons from me that don’t come from books—the kinds of lessons that teach you how to take what you learn from all the books and use it to help those around you, to make a difference in the lives of others.

While I will always be my kids’ mom and their number one cheerleader, the role of mom will be a different one in this new normal as Danielle embarks on her new path.  I will still always be there for her, and for my older two who have already walked down the path a ways, but what they need from me will be different.  Sometimes that will mean being a shoulder to cry on, and sometimes that will mean getting out of the way so that they can spread their wings and fly—or learn to fall—on their own.  The day to day minutiae of being a school-aged parent will be in the rear-view mirror.  Some days I’ll miss it terribly—yes, even little things like having to sign parent permission slips and shopping for Back to School supplies—and some days I’ll marvel at how I was able to manage juggling all of those little things while maintaining some semblance of sanity.  Some days I’ll rise to the occasion and be exactly who I need to be for myself and my kids, and some days I’ll falter and fail them, or feel I have failed myself.  I don’t know yet how to be the person I need to be in my new ‘real world’, because I’ve never been her before.  Just like Danielle, just like Nicholas and Brianna before her, I’m stepping into new territory here, and will have to learn to find my way.  I don’t know yet how to be not the mom of school aged children anymore, but I’ll learn.  I, too, have graduated, and am ready to start my next ‘real world’.

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