Did I even shout? In a two hour ceremony, five seconds were allotted to my child, her name read with her face on the big screen before she walked across the carpet and shook hands with the school administrators who gave her a diploma. My job was to shout across the wide space, let Kiki know that her crew was pulling for her. I can’t remember if I yelled. Things happened so fast. I have some blurry pictures as evidence. Kiki waved to us during the processional marches. Those did not go so quickly. There was time to shout, wave, and photograph her big smile. The whole ceremony seemed so long while it was happening, now it feels like an eye blink, which is rather like raising Kiki who is no longer a child anymore.
There are plentiful jokes about making all the mistakes on the first child. I’ve never felt that way about parenting Kiki. Yes I definitely gathered experience as I went. My parenting evolved and my capabilities grew, but rare was the occasion when I felt like I had to back track and resolve to do things differently the next time around. Most parenting tasks repeat often enough that we can get them right even with the first child. Yet this month it feels like I’m constantly taking note; ways to handle an 18th birthday better, the shifts necessary in being a parent to an adult, the emotional arcs of preparing to depart high school. I’ve felt like I was getting wrong about every other day. I had a map for figuring out how to become a parent, this is new and map-less territory.
“Do I have to go to school?” Patch said while curled up on the couch and hugging his blankets. It was the morning of the last day of school, hours before the graduation ceremony. Patch was stressed from the moment he woke up, over the smallest of things. He fidgeted, fretted, and clutched his security objects, so I sat him down on the couch and drew the physical manifestations of his anxiety to his attention. Then we tried to figure out where all the anxious energy was coming from. When I asked if he was sad about leaving his teacher, his hands began to still. Then we realized, two months ago Patch was very upset and sad about the changes that are coming in his life. This was the day when those changes became real. The last school year with all of the kids at home is complete. Kiki will leave for college, and Patch does not want her to go. I am not the only one without a map for what comes next. Patch watched her walk in her shining green cap and gown. We made sure he had a chance to hug her. I don’t know if it helped much, but it was a small gift we could give.
I hugged Gleek’s teacher in a nearly empty classroom. The walls were bare, desks stacked in a corner, ready for thorough cleaning. The school year was complete, a year which nearly went very wrong but somehow struggled back on course. “I’ll be thinking of Gleek.” the teacher said in answer to my heartfelt thanks. I assured her that Patch would still be attending the school for another two years, I would stop by to let her know how Gleek adapts to junior high. The note that I wrote this teacher is not enough. I don’t know what would be enough, a parade through the streets perhaps. Except I suspect she would not want a parade and true gratitude is best expressed in ways that make the recipient both happy and comfortable. It was a hard few months, and I still feel like I could have handled so much of it better. I can’t even use this year’s experiences as a plan for what comes next because the territory will be quite different. I shall be glad for the pause that summer provides. I need a pause before heading out into the territory only marked with a small sign saying “Here there be dragons.”
“Thank you so much for all your help this year.” Patch’s teacher told me. My eyes watered and I was taken aback. I could tell she truly meant it, but knew that I had never given her my best. I gave her what I had available, the classroom help that Patch needed, but I know I am usually capable of far more than she ever saw. I cried for that a little, for all the small, supportive, consistent parenting things that I simply could not manage this year. There were too many crises and urgent tasks. The best I could do was a cobbled together effort with big gaps in it. Yet she thanked me and her thanks gave me a small hope that perhaps it was enough. I would vow to do better next year, but I don’t want to make promises that I’ll berate myself for being unable to keep later. Fall is uncharted territory. I’ll see what I’m capable of when I get there.
Link lay on the couch in our house that had finally returned to quiet. It was after the graduation, after the joyful chaos of playing with cousins, after the end of school party with some friends. “I had a really fun day and I’ll never have it again.” Link said to me. So I sat next to him and listened to the pieces of his really fun day. He too is facing a transition in the coming year, transferring from the junior high over to the high school. This is easy to forget because it was not marked with a big parents-invited ceremony. His is a quiet transition, but still emotionally relevant. Is he nervous, I wonder but do not ask. Not today. This day I wanted to just listen to his reactions to the graduation ceremony. In three short years he’ll be the one in the cap and gown. When we arrive at that event we’ll have traversed the paths which I can’t see now. Life will be quite different and I can’t picture it, but with my eyes half shut I can almost picture this son of mine being a triumphant graduate. That is a destination worth the trek. I can picture it because Kiki went there first, because the mistakes and triumphs of this year have put lanterns on the pathway to make things easier for her siblings. We understand better how this works.
We took pictures of Kiki in her cap and gown. She smiled even though she is tired and suffering from a head cold. I wish I’d captured the look on Kiki’s face when Howard pulled out his new Samurai Monkey fez and wore it next to her. That way they both had funny hats with tassels. Howard did not bring the fez to the ceremony, but he did bring his phone. From it, he tweeted:
Today you have arrived, graduates. Tomorrow we will break it to you that you’ve arrived at the starting gate.
And we have. This was the day when things changed. Most of those changes are temporarily paused, but they’ve begun. We’re on the front edge of our journey into whatever comes next.