There is a party going on, an imbroglio in my chest cavity where competing emotions vie for dominance. My eldest daughter is graduating from high school in just under three weeks, and my chest has been aching, spasming even. I am not having a heart attack, nor am I undergoing a panic attack. Rather, my heart is being attacked by emotion, apparently all the emotions. Yes, I feel sad that this particular chapter in our lives together is closing. And yes, I feel happy and proud of her for all she has accomplished thus far in her life. But those two emotions represent only a tiny sliver of what I am experiencing in my heart.
One minute I am glowing with pride, the next I am scared that I haven’t prepared her properly to be on her own. The next minute I am laughing at my neurotic behavior, and then inevitably, I am crying. Crying for the end or an era, so to speak. Crying that there are no do-overs, nothing I can change to make her childhood different than what it was, good and bad. Nothing I can do to change the divorce, and subsequent events that culminated in her dad moving across the country; and me, as her mom, striving to raise three daughters full-time on my own, determined that they would be well-adjusted, happy kids, able to give back to society. Crying because, with my eldest graduating, it is a validation that I have done (in part) what I was determined to do; and crying because, in many ways, it has been such a lonely journey.
Except that is not all of it. There is so much more. As I suspect there is for any parent who will watch their child graduate in the coming weeks. No matter whether our families are in their original form, or if they are reconfigured, parents everywhere will mark this moment with the knowledge that good or bad, a childhood has ended. Maybe we did a better job than we ever could have hoped, or maybe we didn’t. Either way, all of it will be changing, and that change is hurtling at me like a screaming freight train.
Which is not to say any of this is necessarily bad or negative. Merely, that it is exactly what it is a chapter closing too fast before a new one begins, one that has not yet been written. One that will be written less by what we as parents do, and more and more by what our children have to write and say about their own lives. And I think it is this knowledge that makes for the exciting and exhaustive party clamoring insistently beneath my chest wall.
When I imagine my daughter’s life, I see the strong foundation upon which she will continue to build and shape her destiny. And now I see what I couldn’t see before, it is the strength of my love, the solid ground inside my beating heart that allows for this explosion of emotion. My emotions know they are safe to writhe and squirm as much as they need because my love for my children is strong enough to withstand the upheaval. Just as my sweet baby, now this beautiful young lady, has known it was safe to display all the emotions she needed to along the way, in order to discover who is she and where she wants to be. And soon, I, along with all the other parents will bear witness with full hearts as our children begin their first steps toward independence, with their own hearts and minds leaping into their futures.