It was a week of red bliss- which accurately describes both my face and the potato salad I overbought.
Middle Daughter kept looking at me, “Don’t cry Mom,” she’d said. Of course that didn’t help, and the tears came anyway. I looked away but I didn’t want to. I wanted her to see how proud of her I was, that my red face and bleary eyes could also mean I was blissfully happy for her.
It was (only?) Senior Awards night, her graduation wasn’t for two days yet. This night was one of the very few events this year that parents were allowed to attend due to covid guidelines. It felt like a gift and a privilege to be a part of something so normal.
She didn’t seem to feel like her academic awards were any big deal, but I wanted her to know they were. This class endured more cancellations and disappointments than any other; from September until May they attended school in a hybrid model, only half the time in person. Many of the kids hadn’t seen each other outside of a computer screen in ten months. The principal had said this class had the best attendance record out of any other high school in the region. There were three ties in the top ranked 20 students. This was, in fact, a big deal.
I clapped until my hands were sore, and smiled until my cheeks hurt under my mask.
I made her hold up her awards and I took a picture. And then we saw some friends on the way out- and I asked them to stand together for another picture. There was some eye-rolling (her) and maybe more tears (not her), but I wanted to hold onto this memory.
It was a very big deal.
There’s a tradition in our town, where the seniors wear their caps and gowns and walk the halls of all three schools the day before they graduate.
I happened to witness this once many years ago when I was volunteering on that same day. I didn’t have a senior at the time, but I was moved to tears anyway (surprise). The teachers and the students line the hallways and clap and cheer as the seniors walk through. Some of the elementary teachers haven’t seen these kids in so many years, some of the students stop for hugs and well-wishes. The younger students make posters. The whole school community sends the seniors off with love every year. It’s simple and it’s amazing.
I didn’t ask Middle Daughter for a photo before she left, I didn’t make any pretense for volunteering at the school that day. This was their special thing, and I didn’t want to Mom-ify it by interfering.
When her former fourth grade teacher sent me a photo from their promenade through their school, my reaction was immediate and emotional.
The teacher captured her at the most perfect moment- my daughter’s hand moving to her mouth in an expression of the most happy surprise, her eyes lighting up the way they do when you see someone very dear to you that you haven’t seen in a long time.
The text that came with the picture made me as cry as much as the picture itself. There was a tearful hug and smiles, and the teacher had to explain to her present class why she was crying and how special this class had been to her. And still is.
I hope every student has at least one teacher like this- one who remembers you so fondly as the years pass, and knows a photo like that will be treasured forever.
Graduation day dawned with clear skies and the promise of hot sun. Which was welcome, considering the contrasting weather the previous weekend for Senior Prom (a Nor’easter, 53 degrees with cold wind and lots of rain).
I had learned my lesson three years ago when Oldest Daughter graduated in the hot sun, so when I arrived over an hour early to stake out seats, it was with an obnoxiously large golf umbrella. I had to assure the people around me that I was taking it down once the ceremony started. Not only did I start a trend that morning (at least 3 other people went back to their cars to get umbrellas), numerous people easily found where their family were seated. I overheard several cell phone conversations, “I’m right behind the giant yellow and blue golf umbrella.”
Several friends sitting near me thought to ask if I was “all set with my camera.” Given my Photo Fail three years ago, it was an entirely appropriate question.
I didn’t cry nearly as much as I expected to. As one friend put it, “It’s just such a happy day for them!” And truly it was. When the school year felt like it lasted about a decade, graduation was a relief, a blessing, and everyone was just rejoicing out loud for these kids.
I’d warned my family ahead of time I wanted a bunch of pictures right after the ceremony. (See Photo Fail above…) And even though it meant an extra 45 minutes in the hot sun, they obliged. I only got a few pictures of Middle Daughter with her friends though, and I had to swallow my disappointment. Because really, it wasn’t about me. Well, maybe it was just a little…
Mostly I just wanted to capture my girl’s joy, I wanted her to be able look back on these pictures in the next few days, the next month, the next years, and remember how happy and proud she was on this day. That even though her senior year happened during a pandemic, she did it. They all did it. They persevered when everything just sucked, and they came out on top.
The pure bliss in her smile as she stood next to her favorite teacher showed that. It was worth capturing that moment and even more worth remembering.
Guess when I cried the most? Not when she sang with her choir (ok I did cry then), not when she got her diploma (we screamed and cheered embarrassingly loud here), but alone in the car when I was leaving the stadium. Does anyone have a song that just reminds them of their kid(s) when they are at their happiest? Abba’s “Dancing Queen” reminds me of my girl- because she’s loved that song for years, because her friends played it for her 17th birthday last year, because when she sings it with her friends she just radiates pure joy. As I was driving home this song came on and I could not stop the tears pouring down my very red face.
I reigned in my emotions for the rest of the day, which was spent outside with some family and a few friends who could gather with us. I laid out a spread of entirely too much food, which included lots of Red Bliss potato salad. I quite typically over estimated how much food to get, and realized too late that two giant tubs (seven pounds) of potato salad was too much. Doesn’t everyone like potato salad? Actually “everyone” turned out to be me and like two other people.
Later on after everyone had gone home, I laughed at my reflection. My face and neck were as red as the watermelon I’d put out. Apparently the golf umbrella saved me from sun-stroke, but I didn’t have nearly enough sunscreen on.
We tried to have a family movie night, but the girls and I fell asleep on the couch halfway through. (There is photographic evidence of this from the husband, which I’d share except my daughters might not speak to me again this year.)
I was sunburned and blissfully happy and very full of potato salad.
It had been a very good day.
I woke up emotionally exhausted and vowed to do very little except sit by the pool and read. And eat potato salad.
I looked at all of the pictures from the day before, and was so grateful that my family had humored me. I told them so and received eye rolls in response. I spent a fair amount of time on social media, grateful to all the other families who humored the moms who had to take All The Photos.
One friend texted me a photo of our girls, best friends since first grade, in their caps and gowns. Another friend sent me photos of our girls with a group of friends, jumping for joy and tossing their caps in front of the 2021 sign on the stadium field. (I’d given up getting this iconic shot- there were too many people around, and we couldn’t find all of her friends, and besides that my family had had enough.)
I guess I wasn’t done crying.
I was so filled with joy to have these moms as friends, who knew how much it meant to have a good photo of your kid, who knew how happy this would make me.
In each photo I saw love and friendship, and the resilience of teens who just kept on getting back up, even when they were knocked down week after week. I saw the smiles that were evidence of all the hard work done, and the anticipation of all the great things that are ahead for them. Behind those smiles are the efforts of all the dedicated teachers, the ones who have helped shape these amazing kids into young adults, the ones who will text you a photo of your kid because “she’s so special”; and the ones the kids can and want to follow on Instagram because they’ve graduated.
(Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday)
We ate potato salad every day, twice a day. With lunch and dinner. Until it was gone.
Thank you to all my Mom friends: the ones who share carpools, the ones who share photos, the ones who share stories and wine, the ones who share my tears and my hugs. Thank you to all my daughter’s friends: for the weekly coffee runs, the Netflix watch party nights, the parking lot social circles, the endless FaceTime calls. I’m so grateful for the love and support you showed each other. Thank you to all the teachers: for your words of encouragement, your constructive guidance, your words of love. My girl is ready to fly because of all that you have done.