When my oldest son was at the end of Grade 6, I remember thinking, “Lord, help me. He’ll be off to high school in two years.
At his Grade 8 “graduation” ceremony in June of 2012, there was a slideshow before the awards presentations. The pictures, candid shots taken by their friends and school staff, spanned their elementary school careers, and the package was laced with baby pictures the kids had taken from home. It all came together to form a photo montage set to sappy music meant to make all the moms cry (which it did).
I remember like it was yesterday seeing a few pictures in particular and being shocked at how much different the kids looked than just two years before in Grade 6. It was only two years, I thought, how could they have possibly gotten so huge? On one school trip, they looked like little goof balls, and suddenly the slide would change and there would be 6-foot-tall men on the screen. It was baffling.
I also remember sitting with my friend whose son is the same age, saying, “We’re going to blink and they’ll be graduating from high school.” And I was right.
Last year around this time, I reconciled myself as best I could to the reality that that day was upon us. The most accurate parenting wisdom I’ve ever heard dispensed is that they grow up so fast you can’t believe your eyes.
The day you become a parent your life changes. Everyone warns you this will happen, and it’s an odd and emotional experience for which you can’t possibly prepare. Eighteen years later, a similar feeling starts nagging at you. Regardless of how much we know it’s coming, graduation day catches us off guard. While I was happy for him and confident in what the future would bring, I faced the graduation season with a strange, difficult-to-explain feeling.
I wondered if other parents felt the way I did – I’m sure they must have. Part of it was a bewildered feeling that 18 years went by and I couldn’t account for every day of those years. Part of it was fear that I was getting older and entering a new phase in my life with only one child at home, and not knowing how that would play out. Part of it was the excitement that there was so much opportunity ahead for him, which I learned from the benefit of hindsight. Part of it was guilt at how happy I was to have halved my lunch packing and homework nagging duties. Of course, part of it was pride, naturally.
Graduation ceremonies are a lot of pomp and circumstance, but I was able to appreciate what a pivotal life event it was. Regardless of post-secondary aspirations or setbacks, high school graduation marks a change in the parent/child relationship. From that day on, things are different, even if you try to keep them the same. You engage in conversations on a different level, even if you don’t mean to. You can feel that things have changed. One minute they’re high school kids playing Xbox in the basement, but they walk across that stage and come back into your house different people in an intangible, but very palpable, way.
This year I am staring down the barrel of a difficult reality to face: I find myself the mother of a Grade 6 student again. Just the other day, I even caught myself looking at pictures of him and his friends and marveling how much they’ve grown in the past two years – it’s like déjà-vu. And I’ll do it again when he’s in Grade 8, just like I did with his brother, and get choked up watching the video montage at the awards ceremony and wonder how my little Ninja Turtle could possibly be going to high school in the fall.
And then I’ll blink and suddenly I’ll be at another high school graduation.
I’m not sure if I wrote this for those parents heading into graduation season or if I wrote it for myself. What I am sure of is, on the big night you’ll look around the auditorium and see the faces of little boys who played catch in your yard and Xbox in your basement, and those faces will now belong to young men who shave and are holding hands with their girlfriends. And while you won’t be sure how you got there, it might help to look around and know that there are other parents feeling just as emotional.