05/29/2006 02:47 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The Tassel Toss

At a time when ominous headlines of nuclear proliferation, the war in Iraq and complicated and potentially deadly global issues are taking center stage, I found inspiration and immense optimism in the expectant faces of the students at my son's high school graduation, and delighted in simply being a proud parent - witnessing the launch of a new generation of individuals upon whose shoulders the future of our planet will soon rest. High school graduations may be small potatoes in the larger buffet of our existence, yet such events in the lives of families are important, bonding experiences - the stuff of life.

This achievement is a big one for the students - but it is just as significant for us, as parents. This marks my third high school graduation as a parent, so you'd think I'd have a handle on it. But I may as well have been on my maiden voyage, because I was a nervous wreck on that auspicious day. We have a large, extended family, and most of us planned to attend the ceremony. Taking the job of mothering seriously, I felt compelled to fret about the logistics of the day from my waking moment. From getting dressed, to worrying about getting all my "ducks" into the van to arrive at the graduation on time - worrying about my grown daughters finding an elusive parking place - worrying about how it would all work out with my mom's walker, where the bathrooms were, etc.

Once we got to the school field and had secured a row of folding chairs for our gang - it was halfway to the back. Not the front row I had hoped for - but, oh, well. Our youngest daughter sought a better view (and less familial chaos) from the bleachers at the back with her friends. But we had my parents, who are both in their eighties, and our two oldest daughters with their combined three children aged one to five, who were like little jumping beans the entire time - fidgeting and talking, and playing and climbing up and down. Our daughters, God bless their hearts, had brought along a basket of "keep them busy's" so the kids had things to eat and do - but even though my grandkids light up my life, I was too nervous wondering where our Graduate was, to be too creative or exceptionally helpful as a Nana.

I got tears in my eyes as soon as the famous graduation processional song began to play. Watching those hopeful seniors file onto the soccer field in their caps and gowns with their tassels just so made my heart flutter. I searched frantically for our son - and didn't see him until all the kids finally filed up on the stage. I realized I was holding my breath, and had to force myself to inhale. I stared at him - willing him to find us. When he finally did spot us - he shot us a great big smile - I put my hand to my mouth and blew him a kiss, and he sent me the cutest little nod back. I was destroyed. The floodgates opened, and tears welled.

The ceremony itself lasted about an hour and a half. Students who played the music, the students who sang, and the students who spoke - all of them, in my estimation, were wonderful. I listened intently to every word - even if I was chasing a grandchild. My husband and I touched hands and glanced at each other from time to time. We felt a special significance in this very important milestone that words can't really describe - but essentially, it's a feeling of pride, accomplishment, foreboding, anticipation, relief, and gratefulness all wrapped up into one powerful emotion.

When the headmaster began to read the names of the students, my throat clamped shut. I had a new sense of urgency - how in the hell was I going to get a good photo? I began a hectic juggle of things, bags, kids, and cheerios - and was so focused on trying to get the cameras and video cameras ready to roll that I almost missed him. I got one shot - not a good one - my camera's zoom lens sucked at that moment. Thankfully one of my daughters had a good long-distance lens, and got him on film as he accepted his diploma. (Okay I know the school got that shot for me, but you know - I wanted to get it on my own frigging digital camera). My husband, who doesn't care about the rules - ran up the center isle to try to get a photo of our son, but was thwarted by another anti-rule mom, and missed it.

But we yelled and cheered and cried - all of us - as our son, and all his friends, received their diplomas and tossed their tassels. Our son's cap was the first one in the air, and it soared the highest, but was instantly followed by all the others, like birds in flight. This metaphor is prophetically appropriate. The tears just flowed, and the crowd howled. It was done.

Afterwards - mingling with the throng, seeing all these exuberant graduates -- handsome young men and beautiful young women -- hugging each other, hugging parents, hugging teachers -- was like being high. There was such hope in the air - excitement, and such unabashed glee that I couldn't help but smile a big toothy grin. At one point I felt like the village idiot of fairytale fame, with tears on my cheeks and an ear-to-ear smile on my face. As I moved through this sea of humanity, slightly overwhelmed by my own emotion - it was imminently clear that these kids are busting out - moving forward, and doing it with gusto. They're ready to get on with it - ready to set out on their next adventure - whatever it may be.

Ahhh....this is a bitter and sweet episode in life. We returned home, post ceremony, and had a small family celebration dinner with our son. We all looked at him - our graduate - with different eyes. Mine were mostly glazed over, seeing him from birth until now - mental images of the memories of his first 18 years running on a constant loop in my mind.

We'll have some time with him over the summer, but then, all too soon, it will be the end of August, and he'll need to be on campus - at the University on the East Coast where he has been accepted to begin the next chapter in his life -- and that will be that. I will take to my bed and cry for a week.

And then, as I've done before, I'll pull it together, and turn my attention back to the stuff of life - and specifically, to our youngest daughter. Three flown and grown, and one to go. Life - every part of the journey -- is a blessing and a challenge.