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?

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