It's graduation season, and almost all the parents I know have a child graduating from somewhere, whether preschool or college. And while they're of course celebrating these milestones, they're also expressing their sadness. If the number of graduation-related Facebook posts that end with "sniff," "waah," or :( is any indication, most parents want time to stand still so their kids can stay little.
I have a son graduating from eighth grade this year, but I don't feel this way -- and it isn't because I'm not emotional. My family constantly makes fun of me for crying at anything remotely sentimental, and I know I will cry at my son's ceremony next week. I cried during the graduation scene in High School Musical 3, for goodness' sake. But when I take my handkerchief out of my purse and dab my eyes when his name is called, it won't be because I want to keep my son in middle school.
I remember parents crying even on the first day of kindergarten, and I didn't relate to it then either. So many of them were lamenting that their "babies" were becoming "big kids" and going to school all day. "Well, isn't that what's supposed to happen?" I thought. "Aren't you happy that they get to have this wonderful experience? Wouldn't you rather enjoy it than be upset about it?"
The worst, I felt, were the parents with more than one child who were upset that this was their "last one" going to kindergarten. I have one child, which means I can experience only one first day of kindergarten and one of everything else -- not two or three or more. But I still don't feel the same way so many other parents do.
Part of the reason, no doubt, is that my own mother died when I was 9 years old, the oldest of four children. She never saw me or my two brothers graduate from fifth grade, eighth grade, high school or college. She never saw my sister's first day of kindergarten. So more than other mothers, perhaps, I am so grateful to be in the audience for any of my son's special occasions that I can't possibly feel sad.
That's not the only reason, though. I also feel that the day isn't about me and my losses; it's about him and his gains. And just as he was more than ready for his first day of kindergarten, he is more than ready for his first day of high school. He doesn't feel sad; he feels exuberant. And if I'm sad, wouldn't that detract from his happiness?
Next week, I'm sure I'll feel wistful. I'm sure I'll wonder, as all parents do, where the time has gone. I'm sure I'll wish for just a moment that I could rock him to sleep, read him a bedtime story, or push him on the swings one more time. And I'm sure I will cry. But it won't be because I want time to stand still. It will be because joy and pride sometimes overflow in tears -- and because I am so lucky to be able to watch him grow up, even if that means growing away from me.