My daughter isn’t really the one graduating. It’s actually me.
My other degrees suddenly seem cheap, just small-time tokens of my own ambition. But the one I’m earning this month? It’s the big one--the one from a preparatory school known for the hardest tests on the planet and the highest number of credits. It’s the diploma that I never really thought about eighteen years ago when I enrolled at 12:17 a.m. at St. Agnes Hospital on the sixth floor, Maternity Ward B.
The other mothers and I whisper about it quietly in between the graduation parties and awards nights. None of us knows quite what to do, even the ones who have two or three of these honors behind them. It’s not because we lost the graduation instructions, but because for us, it’s the season of loss. Diplomas are supposed to get you somewhere. They’re supposed to launch you into another galaxy of opportunity. But this new honor I’m earning seems, at least for now, to be taking everything away from me, just as it’s giving my daughter everything I prayed for.
I envy the mothers who are graciously accepting their maternal diplomas with poise and maturity. I’m not there yet. You see, I have to survive all the endings before they give birth to beginnings. It’s been a Year of the Lasts. I’m tired of every last one. I started my daughter's senior year much like I started her kindergarten year: overdressed and over-photographed. Now I’m just waving her across the finish line, as if to say, Go ahead, honey. I’ll catch up with you later.
LIke most mothers I know, I’ve made some embarrassing mistakes. I’m supposed to swell with pride at the extraordinary young woman she’s become, but I can’t help think of my failures which loop through my head late at night like the dozens of iPhoto slideshows I will view this month. Like a Pharisee, sometimes I invested more in her public show than her private thoughts. I gave her wrong answers on both algebra homework and systematic theology. I spent too much time micro-managing her spirituality at age seven and too little time addressing her spiritual questions at age sixteen. I broke a lamp when I was furious and sometimes served her cold pizza for breakfast. But she and I didn’t have a choice: we were stuck with each other for the long haul, two flawed human beings whom God intended to become each other’s teachers.
My husband, whose pragmatic nature keeps things infinitely less messy, is handling the season like a proud papa bear. His tempered nostalgia makes him grateful and happy. On a recent drive home from yet another “last” event, I was in the passenger seat whimpering like a kitten while he was blasting Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” with the windows down. Our individual journeys as parents have not always merged. Thank heavens that our daughter grew up with both of us.
The feminist movement has re-calibrated a mother’s investment in her children. I know many women who are eager to tell me to knock off the melodrama already and crack open the champagne. I might do that in a month or two. But right now, I can’t help thinking that this is what God would have mothers do: cry at the last concert, linger in the empty bedroom, curl up with a baby book and box of tissues. It reminds me that mothers and children are designed for this. We are sturdy threads of different colors, and the old-fashioned loom has been clack-clacking its way toward some crazy fabric. I know that the thing isn’t finished yet, as my own mother reminds me, but I know I’m losing the rhythm of things, the way it’s been for a very long time.
In the meantime, I wait for the season to pass. Another one is coming soon and if I spend too long in this one, I might not be strong enough for the next.
On June 6th, while I’m waiting for my daughter to cross the stage all blinged out with her cords and medallions, I’ll look around at all the other mothers. For every diploma awarded to a senior, there’s a mom holding one too.