My big kid graduated from high school! Milestone events like a graduation create space for reflection, and I’ve been taking a hard, long look in my rearview mirror this past week. I see my son on his first day of school, I see him performing flawlessly at his first piano recital and drumline competition, I see him as I drove off after delivering him to summer camp, I see him in 2018 wearing his blue “Class of 2022” high school orientation tee shirt, I see him looking so dang grown-up in his light grey prom tux. I remember these major milestones and wonder at all he has experienced.
I also see him in a million quiet, unremarkable moments in between. I see him lying in the grass petting our sweet Izzy-girl when she was still with us, I see him perched atop our coffee table strumming along to every Jack Johnson song on the Curious George movie soundtrack start-to-finish, I see my elementary school-age author and illustrator drafting his own Titanic and tornado tales at the dining room table, I see him asking me if MD meant he was going to lose his walking.
At my eye exam last week, my optometrist, father of three under five years old, asked which stage of parenting I thought was the best. It didn’t take me long to reply that every stage has been the best. God, I miss his sweet, squishy little face, how his first-blue-then-green eyes would light up when I walked into a room. But I also love that he’s created a life apart from me, forging friendships, developing his own internal compass, his own beliefs and opinions.
Lots of parents share memes about their teens’ attitudes and I recently shared with my graduate that seeing those moms-group memes made me realize that neither he nor his younger brother have ever pushed back for no good reason. This is not to say they’re perfect and that they’ve never given me even a moment’s grief, but it’s mostly true: they’re good humans with an infinitesimal amount of attitude. I’m lucky but I’ve also been an active, present parent, so I think I had a little something to do with it, but honestly, I know they are caring, decent young men of their own accord. Blind to the heaps of laundry and mountains of crap on the floor, oblivious in the ways of cleaning their bathroom, and for the love of god take out the trash without being reminded!! sure, but good at the core. Graduation made for a good time to notice the good.
Prior to the ceremony, I told my son I would behave in a dignified way, that I wouldn’t whoop and holler when they read his name, but that I would internally be bursting at the seams, likely dissolving into a puddle of tears. I’m such a liar. My kid looked so. damn. happy. and was having the time of his life down on that arena floor. I was unable to contain my exuberance and oh yeah, I hollered and cheered. And he smiled and kept smiling as did I. As AM I still.
The fifth grader who, back in 2015 asked me if he was going to lose his walking, walked across that stage as a member of the Class of 2022, his face the purest expression of happy I’d seen. I did not cry last Tuesday, but I am now. For all the exceptional highs, all the heartbreak and devastating lows, and everything in between, my eyes well up, but not over. I believe this is what joy feels like.
Their recessional song was Hey Look Ma, I Made It by Panic! At The Disco, a perfect fit for the occasion. My kid tossed his cap and bopped his way out of the arena still smiling. The downtown street in front of the arena was temporarily shut down to make space for the grads and their families. We reunited after fifteen or so minutes to congratulate him and his friends and to say that we’d stick around waiting for him as long as he needed to take it all in. What was to have been an evening of thunderstorms ended up picture-perfect, near eighty degrees with a warm breeze–I don’t think anyone wanted it to end.
I am not sure how to close out this post, the right words just won’t find their order. His school invited families to write a “senior send-off,” messages that would be printed and shared with each senior at their graduation practice, so I’ll leave you exactly as I left him.
When I think about your high school years, it’s easy to think about what you didn’t get to do. Your freshman year ended with Dad’s accident, sophomore year ended abruptly with the scary, uncertain, apocalyptic feel of the pandemic closures, you didn’t even get to attend one live class your junior year, and senior year has been fully masked so you’re still not exactly experiencing a normal year in the way you “see” your friends. But instead of what didn’t happen, I hope you remember the incredible things that DID.
Attending Reagan opened so many musical doors for you. I don’t know if you can even remember how excited you were about Radio Reagan freshman year, but I do. I was entirely blown away by your participation in the competition drumline! I could barely believe my ears and eyes the first time I saw you perform. Auditioning and being chosen for Milwaukee Youth Symphony Orchestra was another accomplishment, and I was stunned again the first time I heard your Calypso ensemble. I know how much you wanted to be part of the Pit (so glad you got to this year!), and you just don’t know how exciting it was for me to hear musical compositions YOU wrote being performed.
You met kids whose families come from all over the globe and through your classmates gained a broader worldview than I ever had during my high school years. Your IB classes opened your mind to conversations, experiences, and opportunities I would still love to engage in myself. I’m so proud of you for selecting and sticking with Full IB. Through your challenges, you learned to reach out for help and I KNOW how hard that is/was for you. Be grateful for your teachers whose gifts they freely shared with you. You connected with a number of adults at Reagan–recognize what it was in them that made you feel safe and cared for and try to return that to others in your time, in your way.
I don’t expect you to have all the answers as you head off to college, but I hope you keep asking questions. I can’t wait to find out what it is that lights the fire for you as you move forward in this world. I’ve got this feeling that you are exactly where you are meant to be as you head to a university 299 miles away from home. I can’t imagine how quiet our house will be while you’re at school, but I know that you’ll be forging YOUR path, the path you’re meant to make and follow. Remember the joy you felt at prom. Remember the good friends you’ve made. Remember the classmates and teachers who’ve inspired you and left an imprint. And know that all that and more still awaits you. Endings are hard, so I won’t tell you there won’t be some sad moments mixed in with the incredible excitement, happiness, and pride you should feel as you graduate–the word “bittersweet” exists for this very occasion. I love you more than you’ll ever know and I’m proud of you, Kid. Love, Mom
And now, let’s have a party, what do you say?