I can tell from the photos on Facebook that high school graduation happened last night. My son’s peers, the kids he grew up with, smile at me from under square shaped hats while wearing shiny gowns. I’ve wondered how I would feel when this happened. I wondered if it would hurt. Dropping out was a success for my son. Passing the GED was a success. It was the way we needed to take control of his path, and reduce the pressure that was crushing all of us. The decision was right, but it was also a permanent marker of the differences of my son. When we kept him with his grouped peers, those differences were less visible. Or maybe I was more able to fool myself.
Looking at the graduation photos doesn’t hurt in the ways I thought it might. There is some hurt, but it is mixed in with a half dozen other emotions. I’m happy for my friends and their children, for my son’s friends. They are rejoicing and they should be. I wonder if they recognize that the diploma really is an achievement. I know that when I graduated from high school it felt like a participation certificate. Somehow I hadn’t internalized the fact that there are more ways to not get a diploma than there are to get one. I see this far more clearly after I helped my child choose not to get a high school diploma. I still feel guilt about that, a creeping fear that if I’d been better at parenting then my son could have stayed grouped with his friends. So that hurts when I look at the graduation photos.
All the emotions are stronger because earlier this week I was quite forcibly reminded that my son’s path to self-sufficient adulthood is going to be non-standard. While my friends are launching their children, or letting go while the kids fly free, I’m staring down at least three more years of long slow learning. Much of that learning will be in the shape of “Okay try it your way.” When everything in me screams that the way won’t work. Of course, having a high school diploma wouldn’t have changed how the next three years are going to go. All it would have done would be to add massive pressure and delay some of the necessary learning. It was the right choice. I just wish I could stop arguing with myself about it in my head.
Over time I win the arguments, achieve an internal peace on the matter. Until I see the graduation photos. I’m glad people post the photos. It is right that they celebrate their milestones. I’m glad that all the photos have flocks of comments “Wow, she’s so grown up!” “Congratulations!” “I can’t believe he’ll be headed for college.” The comments are evidence of the networks of people who collaborated over the years in helping this child become an adult. Facebook allows that network to participate. I am part of that network. I click Like and perhaps add a comment of my own. Then I move my mouse and click “hide this post.” No need for me to face my emotions over and over as new comments keep floating the image back to the top of my news feed.
In a few days or a week I’ll have found quiet in my head again. I’ll be able to feel (as well as know) that everyone has their own path and that all journeys are valid. We’ve had triumph already and more triumphs are coming, even if they don’t look much like triumph from the outside.