Graduating Me

Both my children are graduating this coming June. My son, basketball captain and student body president, and his petite older sister with Down syndrome and hearing loss will don on their caps and gowns, walk the stage and receive their final high school diplomas only one week apart. And I have already started practicing. I’ve practiced multiple scenarios: surviving the ceremonies without meltdowns, bestowing words of wisdom on my son, and prayers to ease my daughter’s fear of attention. But since I get misty whenever I receive emails from my son’s counselor about the upcoming Senior Breakfast, and panic with notice from my daughter’s social worker on Adult Day Programming options, I am certain I will not live through the next few months.

Certainly, as a mom I knew this was coming. It was an inevitable part of this mothering journey. But to have two at once, and such different circumstances, I can hardly process my thoughts from moment to moment. Such pride, oh my son, his multiple successes, servant-leader heart, the offers of scholarships from colleges, so many choices before him. And my daughter, her innocent unknowingness, my fear of what the big world will do to her shy nature and her non-verbal voice. One child will be catapulted into a world of possibilities while I search to find even one possibility for the other. Joy, pathos…yep.

My husband and I visit campuses with my son, talk dorms and celiac-friendly cafeterias, and dread the loss of him living across the hall. All the while, I reject day program after day program (none offer sign language para support) and contemplate the potential permanency of my daughter by my side day in and day out. Then I wake from dreams of me, disappearing.

I’ve been one woman the past 21 years, since my Sarah came into this world, and another when Jacob entered nearly three after that. I’ve worn the motherhood cloak like a second skin, it was natural, warrior-like in its armor, if a little tattered and haphazardly fashioned. I really believe to the core of who I am, that I was meant to be a mom. From the days of lining up all my dolls on the couch and naming each one, it was my destiny. So when motherhood usurped my dance career and changed my personal goals, I was able to justify the loss of the “me” before. But now, when I see my role as mother change completely, I can hardly breathe.

No longer are the daily lunch bags, uniform washings, coercing my kids awake and out the door, counselor meetings and homework reminders. No more are the days where I know my daughter is safe and tended to, familiarity of staff and texts from teachers that truly care, safe bus drivers, educational plans that just might get Sarah to communicate in full sentences, someday. Now, Jacob will write his papers late at night alone, and Sarah will only learn something if I teach her.

After a senior parent meeting last fall, where we were guided on the steps toward my son’s graduation day (the deadlines for yearbook photos and parent dedications, and the importance of encouraging a tame senior skip day), I joked with the principal that they should provide therapy for us “graduating moms”. There were at least four of us who had our last kid graduating and then the umbilical chord to school life would be severed. What were we to do without months of basketball games and the seasonal band concert, quarterly parent-teacher communication and possibilities of snow days. How could we survive without weekly News Notes and planning for the next parent volunteer event.

It’s not a completely self-absorbed thing to assert that, come June, I will be forced to graduate. Yet, I will not don a cap with a gold tassel – or move it from one metaphorical side to the other. No certificate will be placed in my hand and no one will shake the other. Definitely no photo of me will be put on the mantle, showing my motherly accomplishment of the past two decades. Yet as I break down in sobs twice in one week, smearing my makeup with tissues, I will remember that as I get tossed out into the real world that the valedictorian’s well-planned speech will be talking to me, too.