The last month has been a jumble of activity here. Three graduations. Two birthdays. A baby shower. It has been one celebration after another, and thankfully, my body has, for the most part, cooperated. Oddly enough though, I’ve spent a good bit of those celebrations with tears in my eyes.
During Izzi’s Pre-K graduation ceremony, upon receiving their diplomas, the teacher read what the children said they wanted to be when they grow up. There were aspirations ranging from a “mommy who stays home with her children” to “an artist who paints unicorns and flowers.” My heart swelled as, from the stage, Izzi looked directly into my eyes while her teacher read, “When Izzi grows up, she wants to be a doctor who helps people with Lyme disease.”
Those words, and therefore the subsequent tears, were unexpected, but for my son’s high school graduation, I knew well enough to wear waterproof mascara. I’d watched most of this graduating class grow up and could remember their Pre-K graduation, which felt like a blink ago. From soccer games, birthday parties, and school field trips to drivers licenses, growth spurts, and college visits, I knew these kids, now young men and women.
On top of this emotional connection, at graduation I was seated in the faculty section. This would be my last time in the gymnasium as a part of this school, and the enormity of this realization overwhelmed me.
My family and I had cleaned out my classroom just a few days before. A couple of colleagues had already boxed up most of my belongings, but the bare walls and sparse bookshelves were tough to witness. Shutting the door to a classroom I had taught fifteen years of students in, including some walking across this graduation stage, proved even more difficult than writing my letter of resignation.
I left a part of me in that classroom that afternoon, and it was one of the best parts of who I am. A teacher.
But back in the gymnasium, one of the speakers noted it is not difficult to leave behind a building. It is not the halls or the desks that we will miss; it is the people. For Riley, it’s his fellow classmates who will likely never be united as one again. For me, it’s my students and my colleagues.
Over the past year, I have drifted further and further away from these people who were once an almost daily part of my life. They were some of my closest friends, friends who stood by me in my wedding, who visited me in the hospital just hours after my daughters were born, who sat in funeral homes to lend support as I read eulogies for individuals they never even knew in life. Yet in my sickness and their busyness, life was moving on and our connection, this school, would no longer bind us together.
I couldn’t help but see these parallels during the speeches.
Graduation is a celebration, but there is much sadness to this ending. Saying goodbye to the routine of a school day, the security in structure, and to the people we grew up with is legitimately tear-inducing. And if we’re honest, for the kids crossing that stage and for the parents in the stands, it’s also pretty darn scary.
For as liberating and exciting as a wide-open future is, it is just as equally terrifying.
Listening to the speakers, I felt as if I, too, were graduating, leaving Lewis County High School behind and, maybe, hopefully, moving on to a new chapter in my life. In a way, Riley and I were graduating together, outgrowing those halls simultaneously.
As is tradition, the graduates were given time during commencement to give their parents and loved ones flowers, a simple thank you for spending the last 18 years getting them to this point. It is always the most emotional aspect of graduation, and for us, the gift of this moment consumed us.
At the beginning of this school year, I feared I would not live long enough to witness Riley’s graduation. My pain was intense, and ten months felt too long to bear. Riley and I had never discussed it. He is a deeply private kid and holds everything in, but I have no doubt there were times over the last two years that he worried as well.
Now here we were, wrapped in a family hug and weeping. Not because we were sad, but because we had made it. I had walked into that gym without a cane. I’d finished a round of IV antibiotics a couple of weeks earlier, so my chest port was unaccessed. For the first time in ages, I felt the way I looked, and that is nothing short of remarkable for the chronically-ill. I had survived, had continued to survive, I guess, and in Riley’s embrace, I sensed he knew that, too.
There were no more tears after that. When my husband, the school assistant principal, read my son’s name, we clapped and cheered. He walked across that stage with his head high, and I beamed. My sickness faded from mind. This was his moment, and I was just proud to be Riley’s mom.
As I said, it’s been a whirlwind of a month, and most of the time, I’ve just been happy to be able to participate in my life again. But it strikes me that these celebrations have been simultaneously endings and beginnings.
The end of high school for Riley and the beginning of summer jobs, college life, and kicking football collegiately.
The end of preschool for Izzi and the beginning of kindergarten, which to a five-year-old is even bigger than her brother’s accomplishments. (Shh! Don’t tell him that.)
The end of my career as a high school English teacher and the beginning of chapters I was previously too comfortable to write.
Oh, and, of course, there’s the baby.
A few weeks ago, I co-hosted a baby shower, a celebration welcoming my granddaughter into this world. Can you believe that? Any day now, I will become a grandma. It still feels surreal, even as I feel her kick and flip in her momma’s belly, but I absolutely cannot wait to hold this sweet miracle in my arms.
The birth of this little girl will officially be the end of Phillip and Casey’s childhood and the beginning of the most extraordinary journey a couple can share.
And it will be the beginning of my life as a grandmother.
Every celebration, the endings and the beginnings, are a gift. Gifts I appreciate in a way only a person who has kissed Death on the cheek can. Yes, our house is a little crazy right now. With two adult couples, a baby on the way, a high school grad, two little girls, two inside cats and a new kitten, three outside cats, and recently impregnated silver lab, I’m not sure if I’m the zookeeper or the circus ringmaster .
But this much I know is true. Most of the time, we are happy. We know how blessed we are because we’ve been in much darker places not long ago. We thank God for these gifts, these celebrations, the endings and the beginnings, and most of all, for each other.
One of my favorite quotes right now, pretty much sums up the last month of my life.
Our lives are nothing like what I’d imagined. Battling Lyme disease, losing the ability to work full-time, saying good-bye too early to dear friends, filing for disability and becoming a grandma at the age of 39, I wasn’t nearly creative enough to picture these twists in my life.
But I am learning to let go, accept, and celebrate the good that still is in my days. More and more often, I’m able to look back, connect the dots, and say, “Okay, God, I see what you did there. I get it.” But more on that in a later post.
For today, if you see any of my three graduates — Casey, Riley, and Izzi –please congratulate them. If you see my June birthdays — Phillip and Gracie — wish them well. And if you could add Casey and the baby to your prayer list, we sure would appreciate all the love we can get for a healthy delivery for both momma and baby.
Keep coloring, my friends. It is a beautiful life. XO!