Monday, June 1, 2009

A Time To Celebrate -- And A Time To Cry

Tomorrow marks my son's last day as a middle school student.  He'll cross an auditorium stage clutching a certificate, and just like that, he'll be a high school student.  I'll be seated, in one of those uncomfortable auditorium seats that flips up noisily if you shift too suddenly, clutching a Kleenex.  And just like that, I'll be the parent of a high school student.

Although my parents would report, accurately, that I cried nearly every day -- about something, everything, nothing -- from the age of 11 until about 14, I don't cry readily nowadays.  Nevertheless, I'm forecasting a 100% chance of waterworks tomorrow.

On his first day of kindergarten nine years ago, my sweet son clambered confidently onto the bus (and when you're only five years old, that first step is a doozy) for the 10-mile ride to school.

He never looked back.  Good thing, too -- because I lost it.  I don't mean I cried.  I bawled.  I heaved.  I blubbered.  

I could scarcely breathe between sobs.

Quite the spectacle.  My then-husband, never entirely comfortable with tears, was at a loss.  He glanced quickly at his watch and offered the only solace he could summon.  "I've got to get to work," he said, "but why don't you call the realtor and go find a house closer to school?  Maybe a house where you can actually see the school.   If you find something you like, call me.  We'll move."

What?  Just like that?  Move?  Buy a house?  Now, if he'd told me to buy some fabulous bejeweled earrings -- with a killer necklace to match -- I might've done that.  But buy a house?  His over-reaction put me and my over-reaction back on kilter.  We didn't move, of course.  I'm far too entrenched in my neighborhood.  But thus began the cycle of my tears as the kids make their way through these entirely foreseeable milestones.  I see the changes coming.  I know they're for the better.  But the tears still leak out.

At the end of that kindergarten year, my son was at odds.  Well-meaning adults kept asking if he was excited to be completing his kindergarten year.  Asking whether he was ready to be a "big first-grader."  Asking if he was looking forward to summer.  

No one asked if he'd be sad to leave his darling kindergarten teacher.  No one asked if he was nervous about moving to the first-grade "hall."  No one asked if he was sad to be leaving his friends for the summer.

As the final days of the year dwindled down, he wasn't sleeping well.  He had nightmares.  He was moody.  I had a glimmer of how he was feeling, but was losing patience.  One afternoon, after a particularly unexpected outburst (on his part), I blurted, "I don't understand what's going on here!" 

To which, my sweet six-year-old, eyes brimming with tears, exclaimed, "I have mixed feelings!"

Mixed feelings.  Eight years later, that's me.

I'm proud of his accomplishments since that kindergarten year, and I look forward to the ones to come, but I'm sad to end this chapter.  I've enjoyed it.  I'll miss it.

Still, it's time to move on.  My now-14-year-old and his friends are so grown that they scarcely seem to fit in the middle school hallways.  Their hormones are fully ramped.  They tower, sometimes menacingly, over the sixth graders.  My own son has been taller than me for quite some time now.

I've already warned him that I anticipate springing a leak tomorrow.  At first, he was incredulous.  Then, he urged me not to wear makeup.  The streaked mascara look, he reasoned, would be too embarrassing.  But then he consented that if I was just dabbing at my eyes, makeup would probably be OK.  Little does he realize that it's far better for both of us if I cry with makeup than without.

He'll get his certificate.  I'll get my Kleenex.  And we'll both move on.

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