Thursday, May 26, 2011

Closing a Circle

by Nancy

On the surface, this looks like every other summer vacation. The boy finished school last week and is now upstairs noodling on his guitar, I'm on the computer writing this blog, and the dh is at school, most likely in a meeting. But it isn't like every other summer vacation. Under that placid surface, a seismic shift has occurred.

The boy graduated from high school. He "finished" it in the truest sense of the word.

Many of you have seen your children take that walk across the stage, some of you more than once. You know what it's like. His father and I are coming to terms with the fact that 13 years of dropping him off, picking him up, and packing his lunch are over.

The school calendar has come off the refrigerator instead of staying there until I replace it with the new one in August. The university calendar doesn't have a list of parent conferences, short days, long weekends, or other things we need to pay attention to. So there's a big, blank spot on the freezer compartment door. I'll rearrange the magnets and and fill the space, of course. Just not quite yet.

Come August, we won't just be checking to be sure his calculator still works and he has clothes that fit and his backpack and lunchbox are still holding up. We'll also be buying sheets and towels and boxing his stuff and packing the car. The backpack will go with him. The lunchbox will not. He has carried it since middle school, so it owes him no service, but not seeing it in the kitchen every night will seem strange.

This past Mothers Day and my most recent birthday are the last ones for which the boy will be home. Next year, we won't be able to decide, in a leisurely way, which movie and which showing we're going to see as a celebration and then roll out to do it. Not with the boy far, far away preparing for the end of his semester. The dh and I can pick a movie, of course, and likely will, but it won't be the same.

The guys usually get me flowers for Mothers Day. The boy picks and the dh pays. This was the last time for that, too. Mothers Day without the boy? Not to be contemplated. Yet I have to wrap my head around it. Much as we'll miss him, we wouldn't hold him back for the world.

There's a popular poster that says the two things parents should give their children are roots and wings. The dh and I are about to see how well we did with that.

When the boy was just a baby, he loved country music on the old Nashville Network. That was the year Alan Jackson's "Chattahoochie" was a mega-hit. No matter how sleepy the boy was, the first few bars of that song made his eyelids pop open as though they were spring-loaded.

We danced with him in front of the TV and bought the CD. His fascination with the song extended into toddlerhood though his musical tastes have since changed.

When he was not quite two, we were in a Waldenbooks one night, and the boy was motoring down the aisle by the magazines in that lurching gait toddlers use. Suddenly, he slammed on the brakes. He squatted on his haunches to peer at the music magazines on the bottom rack. One magazine bore Alan Jackson's picture on the cover. "Aljack," the boy announced in that clear, piping voice common to small children. Then he gave a quick nod, as though satisfied with this statement, straightened his little legs, and motored on.

The span of time between that moment and this seems less than a heartbeat, but the munchkin who used to hug me around the knees is taller than I am now, and his voice has dropped to the basement.

His graduation has made me remember my own and reminded me of a photo my father took that night. Daddy supported everything we did. He volunteered for the Girl Scouts and the church youth organization and the marching band boosters. But he was not Ward Cleaver. He treated conversations with emotional overtones much as he might have treated the bubonic plague, as something to be avoided if at all possible.

As I walked up the aisle with my high school diploma in hand, Daddy stepped out to take a picture. It didn't turn out very well by most standards. It was at a crazy angle, and the only part of me that was visible was my face, down in the lower right corner. But it spoke volumes about his feelings at that moment, and so I cherish it.

As the boy's school orchestra played the first bars of "Pomp and Circumstance" and the seniors marched toward us in their caps and gowns, my throat closed. My eyes stung and glazed. I was very much in danger of becoming what our Regency fans would describe as "a watering pot." But I managed to push the sentiment back because I wanted to watch our son during every moment of this wonderful occasion that marked the end of his childhood.

I knew then how my father felt on that long-ago night. What went around has come around. As the late, great Harry Chapin said, "all my life's a circle," and that circle in my life, from me to the boy and my parents to me, is now complete. I wish they had lived to see him walk across the stage looking so very grown up.

I've bought the "Chattahoochie" video for my iPad, to pull the memories close when the boy is so far away.

Do you have graduations or other big occasions in your family this year? What was a watershed moment in your life? How did you feel, and what were you thinking about?


jo robertson said...

What a sweet, charming post, Nancy. You've nearly made me cry. I just got back from a graduation -- my two daughters' preschool -- LMNOPreschool with Miss Shannon and Miss Megan!

Twelve little 5 year olds marched down a red carpet to a stage in Shannon's luscious backyard to the tune of that staid graduation song. They were dressed in red graduation caps and gowns. Some ran, some marched, and some nearly wandered off the red carpet! But they all wound up on the stage exactly on their designated spots.

Wow, I thought, this is just the first milestone. I wondered if they'd all be together in the same school 12 years from now when they march down the aisle to graduate from high school.

What a thrill!

jo robertson said...

Whooo hooo, did I really get the rooster? Hmmmm, I have a sick boy at my house. Maybe I'll put the wily one to work making my tasty chicken soup!

jo robertson said...

Thanks again for this post, Nancy. As a retired teacher of seniors, I wax very nostalgic at this time of the year. I adored teaching seniors, mainly because I saw so much character growth during those nine months. They truly become real people, genuine men and women you'd like to know even if they weren't your children!

Anna Campbell said...

Jo, looks like the chook is graduating to your place today!

Wow, Nancy, what a beautiful post. I really got choked up. Actually this last month has been a bit of an anniversary for me too - ten years since my dad passed away and five years since my mum passed away. Definitely time to stop and take a deep breath and do the sort of accounting that you have in this post. Tears and smiles!

I wish you son all the best in his future. He certainly drew the lucky straw when it got to picking his momma! Hugs!

Nancy said...

Jo, thank you!

Congratulations on the preschool graduation. Little kids are so cute in caps and gowns.

It'll be interesting to see whether that same group is together when they finish high school.

As the ceremony last week drew to a close, I looked at the boy and hoped he realized this was the last time this group would all be together in quite that way. They'll see each other again--at least, some of them will--but it will never be the same was it was before last week.

Nancy said...

Congratulations on the rooster, Jo! He can read storybooks, y'know. He just pretends he can't.

Er, you're going to have him making _chicken_ soup? Seriously? VBEG

I figure this has to be strange for high school teachers for the reasons you cite. They've seen these young people develop, have helped them along the way, but now the connection will be cut.

Though the boy and several of his teachers have done the friend bit on Facebook, now that he has graduated. So have other newly minted alumni, of course, now that there is no conflict of interest for the teachers.

Nancy said...

Anna, thanks for the kind words for me and the good wishes for the boy.

I'm so sorry this is a double milestone of loss for you. I'm sure your parents would've been very proud of all you've accomplished. Still, it would be nice to share it with them, wouldn't it?


Fedora said...

Oh my, Nancy! Congratulations to you and your family! Our eldest is graduating from fifth grade this year, and will be heading off the middle school in the fall. I'm not ready for the big time yet! :)

Jane said...

Congrats to your son and the whole family, Nancy. No big occasions to celebrate this year.

Mary Preston said...

No personal big occasions , but births in the extended family. My children are out on their own now but your post brought it all back. Time flies too swiftly.

hrdwrkdmom aka Dianna said...

I have had so many watershed moments I water up just thinking about them. Birth to death and everything in between. My granddaughter just had her 10th birthday but she is in TX and I am in WV, I spent most of the day in tears. March was 11 years since my mother passed. I spent that day in tears too.
The circle of life moves on and we make memories as we can and hold them tight.

Helen said...

Well done Jo make him work LOL

I am wiping away the tears what a beautiful post. I wish him well at college and I am sure his wings will be great.

For me all 4 of my kids finished high school a while ago my eldest is 31 this year and the youngest 25 only one of mine went to university Bec my eldest and she ended up doing 2 degrees and is now an english history high school teacher at the high school all my kids went to and she loves it although she is on maternity leave at the moment Josh is now just on 2 months old.
A very teary moment for me was when my first grandchild was born
5 years ago yes Jayden is now 5 (and at school himself) and I shed a few tears that day and actually have shed a few with the birth of the other 5 as well but I can't explain the awesome feeling of the birth of granchildren and I actually watched 3 of them enter the world amazing.

Have Fun

Anna Sugden said...

What a lovely post, Nancy. I know you've given your son both roots and wings, as well as a wonderful curiosity for the world and an enjoyment and passion for what life offers.

I'm sure he's also seen what a great example you've set him in pursuing your writing dream.

One of the bittersweet moments of teaching is sending your class off to the next year. I used to be so proud of what my kids had achieved and grown, and yet sad to be saying goodbye. I used to get pleasure in knowing that even if they didn't remember me, the skills I taught them would stay with them forever.

I get a lump in my throat thinking of my niece and nephew who are already growing up too fast and are only a few years from graduation.

I think the next milestone for us will be one of hubby's daughters getting married ... and then grandbabies. *gulp*

EilisFlynn said...

A lovely post, Nancy.

Deb said...
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Deb said...

Thank you, Nancy, for your reflective and touching post.

My stepson was married in early April. It's still hard to fathom since he's young (24).

My niece Meghan graduated from college last weekend. Since I was single for a very long time, I spent many, many days at my sister's house. Megs and her Aunt Bub danced, read, played house, and made cookies.

My niece Ali graduates from high school this weekend. Ali and I spent many days sitting in Grandma's apple tree, reading and talking and singing.

My daughter's last day as a 4th grader is today. My baby is not much of a baby any longer. There are moments she astounds the DH and me with comments and use of big words, but a cherish the moments she slips and calls me Mama instead of Mom or the times she wants to snuggle on the couch.

p226 said...

Hehehe, I'm pretty sure my boy feels like a pilot. See, he's into the whole aerospace thing. And we've got four years 'till he graduates high school. But that's not why he feels like a pilot. I bet it's because of the ejection seat strapped to his bum.

When he graduates high school, a half a pound of composition B is going to blast him off to somewhere. College, work, or the military. EJECT EJECT EJECT. FOOMP! Talk to me Goose!

Bahahah. Yeah, we love him and all, but it's gonna be adult time. Mrs. P226 already has plans for his room.

As for those watershed moments, yeah, we've all had them. When I think of graduations in my own life, I tend to think of bootcamp graduation back in the day. Yeah, I graduated from a military high school, but that's a different animal. Parris Island is a different beast altogether. The one thing I can assure you, is that when my kid has that kind of watershed moment (college graduation, bootcamp, Air Force Academy, who knows what) I plan to be there come hell or high water. I walked off the parade deck at Parris Island to no one. Girlfriend wrote me a Dear John letter while I was at boot, and my parents decided that was an excellent time to get a divorce, and they were so consumed with their own BS, when dismissed, I walked from the parade deck to the bus station. Alone.

Yeah, my kid'll have someone there, whatever his watershed moment happens to be.

Trish Milburn said...

You've got me tearing up too, Nancy, and I don't even have kids. What a cute baby picture of the boy.

High school graduation is such a turning point. I felt like it and moving into my college dorm three months later were huge moments in me becoming the person I am now.

Nancy said...

Fedora, thanks! I remember 5th grade graduation. The kids were so excited, and so were we. I hope yours goes smoothly.

Nancy said...

Jane, thank you! Big occasions or no, I hope you enjoy your year.

Nancy said...

Marybelle, time does, indeed, fly too swiftly! One of the joys of infants and toddlers is seeing the world through their new, curious eyes. I envy your getting to start that with a whole new crop of littl'uns.

When the boy was a baby, I had him outside one autumn evening, and I noticed him watching the leaves drop off the trees and drift on the breeze. And I suddenly realized he had no idea that, in a few months, new leaves would appear. I told him, but I'm pretty sure he doesn't remember, seeing as he didn't speak English at the time.

Susan Sey said...

Oh, Nancy, this post made my heart ache just a little. And my kids are 4 & 8--it'll be a while before we have a blank spot on the freezer. Your boy is going to fly. Just soar. How could he not, with people like you & your dh behind him?

Hope September isn't too bittersweet, & that this summer is one to savor.

Nancy said...

Dianna wrote: The circle of life moves on and we make memories as we can and hold them tight.

That's so true, and there have been times I didn't pay enough attention to what was right in front of me--too busy looking at the horizon--and cheated myself of chances to make important memories.

I'm sorry you missed your granddaughter's tenth. Ten is kind of a milestone birthday. I'm glad you and your mother were so close--more memories to hold onto even if they sting.

Dtchycat said...

Congratulations to your son (and you) on his graduation. A few weeks ago I was able to attend my youngest son's college graduation - for me a huge milestone, being able to see him officially become an adult! Now don't go poo-pooing on my fantasy...he chooses to live with me because he just loves me, and I choose to still do that laundry and pick up those socks cause I am hoping some wonderful girl can be convinced he is trainable :) Seriously though, it was quite emotional knowing he was able to stick it through when at times I didn't think he was going to, so in a sense, he really did grow up and take responsibility for himself. And for me, college taught me that I can't and shouldn't be doing everything for them, that they need to do it for themselves...So best of luck as you send your son off to college in the fall!

Donna MacMeans said...

Nancy - Hugs. That's a proud moment, but a tough one too. I still look around and see those kindergarten pictures of my kids and tear up. TIme moves on. Your post is a loving tribute to your son.

But I had to giggle when you wrote that you won't be fixing those lunches for him anymore. My son (25) stills drops in around meal times periodically looking to raid the fridge. Just because they go off to school doesn't mean they won't be home again. He will be - but he'll be more the man and less the boy for the time away.

Donna MacMeans said...

P226 - Hugs to you as well. That's terrible that there was no one for you at that critical time. I believe, however, that you will always have someone there for you in your future watershed moments. You've learned from experience and built a wonderful family. I bet your parents, whereever they are, are proud - and a bit jealous - of what you've accomplished.

Nancy said...

Here's a link to Harry Chapin and his band performing "All My Life's a Circle."

Sad to say, his lighting guy sings better than I do. *sigh*

Donna MacMeans said...

Hugs Anna - as you know, I've lost both my parents as well. It's a lonely feeling, but I believe they are bursting with pride at all you've accomplished. You're the wind beneath their wings (grin).

Nancy said...

Helen, thank you. We hope the boy will soar, of course, but we also hope he'll need to sink his roots in his native soil from time to time.

What a wonderful family you have! We always enjoy the bits you share with us. I considered being a history teacher, like your daughter, but I concluded I lacked the patience for it.

Gannon Carr said...

Oh, Nancy, I know how you feel. My oldest is graduating next week! Each year seems to pass by faster than the last, so it's no surprise that I feel like it was only yesterday that my son was in elementary school. In August, he will be off to college, and I know that it won't seem like very long before my other two kids leave the nest.

Nancy said...

Anna, thank you. I hope the boy will go into the world and carpe the diem for all he's worth.

I've never taught little ones--again, not enough patience--but even with my college students, there have been some I felt I'd gotten know, and I wonder from time to time how they're doing.

I bet you'll be great at planning weddings. You'll be on the end that's more stressful but more fun. As parents of the groom, we'll pretty much just show up.

Nancy said...

Eilis, thank you!

Nancy said...

Deb, thanks. You've had a big year, lots of milestones. I'm still Mommy, but I don't expect that to last. The old Southern custom of parents being Mama and Daddy forever is dying out.

Sometimes I think girls are harder than boys. They have more issues that lead to conflicts with their mothers, at least sometimes.

Your relationship with your sister sounds wonderful.

Nancy said...

p226 wrote: Yeah, we love him and all, but it's gonna be adult time.

This reminds me of my parents' philosophy. We understood that we could live at home through college, as long as we were fulltime students. If we chose not to be fulltime students, we were expected to get fulltime jobs and NOT live under the parental roof.

I can't imagine not wanting to be there at big moments in the boy's life. I don't understand parents who shrug off those occasions. I'm sorry yours were so blind and self-absorbed.

With all that emotional flak swirling around you, the fact that you finished boot camp is a testament to your determination. Of course the girlfriend thing worked out well ultimately since you ended up with Mrs. p226. :-)

Nancy said...
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Nancy said...

Trish, thank you. I suspect the boy feels as you did, that moving into that dorm will be a big step into his future.

Today he's off being an extra in the Hunger Games movie in Shelby NC. Because it's so far from here and they have early calls (five-freaking-thirty AM) and 12-to-15-hour days, he and a buddy are sharing a motel room near the set. This also is a first, staying in a motel when they're not on a school trip or with someone's family.

We had planned to go on vacation next week, maybe hit DisneyWorld before it becomes totally, scorchingly sauna-like and jam-packed crowded. We took the boy just before he turned three, but he remembers nothing, or so he says. (He refers to the UK as "England-that-I-have-no-memory-of" but does actually recall events from our trips there when prodded.)

But they'll be shooting next week. The days are optional, and he offered to skip them though we could tell he didn't want to. We don't want him to miss this experience since its like may never again come his way. So we're postponing our trip.

Having experienced Disney in July during RWA last year, I don't really want to repeat that, and the dh hates hot and muggy weather. We'll be doing something else for vacation.

Nancy said...

Susan, thanks for the good wishes. I know you're caught up in the daily whirl. We just had one child, and there were weeks when we felt as though we just didn't stop. You juggle it well, though.

I am finally catching up on bandita books and I LOVED Money, Honey. I can't wait for Money Shot. Next month, right?

Nancy said...

Dtchycat wrote: And for me, college taught me that I can't and shouldn't be doing everything for them, that they need to do it for themselves.

So true, and you're wise to grasp it. That's a lesson some parents never learn. I've had a taste or two of such parents in my teaching, and the dh frequently has to butt heads with them in his administrative role (which he will be giving up in 35 days, not that we're counting). They don't seem to grasp that their children have to assume control of, and responsibility for, their own lives if they're going to become functional adults.

How exciting that your son graduated! I hope you enjoy this last time with him at home. The job market for new graduates seems to be tight, but there are jobs out there.

Since he's your youngest, is your nest empty? Do you have plans to take advantage of that?

Nancy said...

Donna, thank you. I have to confess it's the dh, the morning person (which you know I SO am not) who has packed 99.9% of the lunches.

You wrote: Just because they go off to school doesn't mean they won't be home again. He will be - but he'll be more the man and less the boy for the time away.

I certainly hope he will be home again. He's eager to chart his path, and that's something the school reinforced. The students were urged to handle any problems themselves, and there was never one he couldn't get resolved. So I hope he doesn't get some internship Way Far Away next summer.

He has always wanted to stretch his wings, so I'm confident you're right, that the time away will add to his maturity. Still, we want him to miss us just a little. . . .

Nancy said...

Gannon, I feel for you. It's such a strange time. We're so proud of our boy, so happy for him, and yet sad that he's slowly, surely, and rightly needing us less and less.

Except, of course, for our checkbook. He still needs infusions from that for a while. *g*

Anna Sugden said...

P226 - your Top Gun quote made my day!

I'm with you on having parents not being there for key moments for a variety of reasons. I'm glad we both overcame in spite of them!

catslady said...

My youngest just graduated magna cum laud and we're so proud of her. Families are sooo complicated. I don't have enough room to explain all the rights and wrongs but I have learned that everyone tries to do the best they can under any given circumstance. And at least the world didn't end last weekend :)

Terri Osburn said...

I was doing so well today but now you have me crying at my desk. This is a beautiful blog, Nancy. My daughter is wrapping up 6th grade and preparing once again to spend the summer half a country away from me. I'm always extra moody at this time of year, but now I'm realizing how much worse it's going to be in six years.

I have no doubt you've raised a good man, and he will never really be far away. No matter what the miles on the map might read.

Beth Andrews said...

Congratulations on your boy's graduation, Nancy! I completely understand how you feel. It's a bittersweet time yet there's so much to look forward and such an exciting time in our kids' lives *g*

I'm thrilled to have my own son home for the summer though he's already warned us he plans on staying in Nashville next summer :-)

Nancy said...

Catslady, congratulations on your magna cum laude graduate!

Yes, families are complicated. Mine took on definite soap opera overtones in the last years of my mom's life.

But I'd like to think, as you say, everybody is trying to do their best.

And yes, we're glad the world didn't end.

Nancy said...

Terri, I'm glad you liked the blog. We have friends whose children are not with them for big chunks of the year, and I see what they go through. My heart goes out to you and other parents facing these separations. I hope things will be better for you, not worse, in six years. Once kids hit college, they tend to take more control of their situations.

Thank you for the good wishes. We have our fingers crossed.

Nancy said...

Beth, thank you. Yes, it's a bittersweet time. I remember when you were facing your son's college choices. He sounds very independent, as the boy seems to be. I would not be at all surprised if the boy found a job or an internship near school next summer and decided to stay there.

Nancy said...

I talked to Cassondra earlier. Last night's storm knocked out her internet. She says to tell everyone she's sorry she can't be around today.

Anna Campbell said...

Thanks, Nancy and Donna.

Kate Carlisle said...

Aww, Nancy! I'm blinking back tears and smiling, too, at so many of the lovely comments. Jo's LMNOPreschool made me giggle.

Actually snuck into the Lair to say a quick hello to everyone before I duck back into the cave for the next few weeks. Thanks again for the great post, Nancy. Your boy is one lucky young man to have you for a mom, my friend. :-)

And I'm hoping everyone's staying safe and sound out there. The weather is one mean mother these days.

Nancy said...

Kate, thank you. Glad you made it by!

Louisa Cornell said...

Jo-mama got the GR. Chicken soup? Really? MWHAHAHAHAH !!!

Nancy, what a truly lovely post. You must save a copy of this to give to the boy as it shows how very much his parents love him. Something he may take for granted now, but oh, one day it will mean the absolute world to him.

I remember when my nephew graduated from high school, just two years ago. I remember the day he was born and seeing him up on that stage as he received his diploma and watching him look for our faces to flash that cheeky grin will be etched in my mind forever.

His sister will graduate next year and I know it will be just as bittersweet. She plans to go to school in Tennessee to study forensics. My nephew is closer. He's studying engineering at the University of Alabama. Have a few years yet for last of the Three Musketeers to graduate - my other nephew.

Definitely feeling the Circle of Life this week as I had to sing at the funeral of a dear, sweet man. He and his wife are my Mom's closest friends and they have been such huge supporters of first my music career and now my writing. His health had not been good for quite some time, but he had given his family strict instructions that I was to sing and exactly what three songs I was to sing. I made it through the first two okay (I've sung at far more funerals than I care to count) but the last song, which closed the service, got me. It was his favorite - Schubert's Ave Maria. Singing through tears is no easy feat.

And then his graveside service was at the Alabama National Cemetery and was conducted with full military honors which brought the day of my father's funeral back with a vengeance.

I agree with everyone else, Nancy. Your son has been so very fortunate in his parents and I know he will go out into the world and make a real difference because of that.

Gerri Russell said...


Great post! You made me cry. I'm so proud of the boy, and happy for you as you also move into a new phase of your life. You will do as fabulous there as you do with everything else. Here's to new beginnings.