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Graduation Day

Babs said, “I know you’re going to cry,” but I said I hadn’t cried at Wally’s graduation and didn’t think I’d cry at the Snapper’s.

She said, “This is different—this is it. After this you’ll have an empty nest”

But I didn’t cry. The kids were funny and excited and the bad plastic surgery and fabulous fashion faux pas in the crowd kept Rebecca, George and I pretty occupied. And when the Snapper went up on stage to receive his diploma, he hugged his way through every official. The principal, not a touchy-feely guy, tried backing away but the Snapper got him in a bear hug and Wally got it on camera. We laughed and went home and ate ice cream.

In retrospect I think I was just focused on the party, two days later. We’d been planning for months—and cooking for days—and it had morphed into a graduation party from high school for the Snapper and from cancer for George, a celebration of everything good that had happened.

It was all that and more.

There were old-heads in their 80’s on the porch, pre-schoolers playing in the street (it was closed off). The seniors took up the entire side yard, in what turned into a yearbook signing party. The bar area in the front yard was packed and in the backyard, the tables and chairs spilled into each other as friends and family sat, ate, moved to the next group and had their seats taken when they left for seconds. I said to one of my neighbors, “Thank god it didn’t rain” and he said expansively, “You could have used our house,” but I suspect that was the rum punch talking. George made gallons of it and even those who could walk home, later had trouble doing so.

Midway through the evening half of the party cut through a neighbor’s yard and emptied onto the elementary school field to watch the Snapper and Wally fire their homemade potato cannons into the summer dusk where the potatoes knocked branches out of trees and were retrieved by a flotilla of under-10’s, who raced around screaming as if they were finding gold coins. As it got dark, the rugby coaches set up bottle rockets on the front lawn until someone up the block came down and complained. One of the coaches offered him a beer and another said, “This is what makes America great—drinking and blowing things up.”

I finally sat down on a chair under a tree lit with multicolored mini-lights and watched the fireworks sizzle overhead. From where I sat I could see the diehards at candlelit tables in the backyard (killing off the rum punch and brownies) and the high schoolers scribbling away on chairs and tables, scrunched two to a chair and three and four to a bench, as if they couldn’t get close enough. Later, as they drifted away into the hot summer night in their barefeet and flipflops, I realized that this was the last time many of them would be all together—which probably explained how long they lingered. And at midnight we were still sitting in the soft darkness, under the lights, listening to music and the murmuring all around the yard.

The next day we slowly returned to normal, packing away tables, picking up empty soda bottles. George found food in the refrigerator that we had forgotten to put out. I said, “how did we miss that?” and George muttered something about the fruit juice in the rum punch being a healthy substitute. I said, “What the hell. No one complained and now we don’t have to cook.” A torrential summer rain eventually sent everyone in to take a nap and, still later, I drove Wally to the bus to return to his job. When I came back it was evening again and the yard, which had teemed with so many people just 24 hours earlier, was empty.

As empty as the house I am soon to have, I thought.

And that’s when it finally hit me.

I’ve spent the past twenty years longing for ten minutes of personal free time, racing to football and rugby and baseball games, packing lunches, attending teacher conferences, imposing deadlines, grounding recalcitrant teenagers and constantly tripping over dirty socks, jocks and sneakers … and occasionally swearing at the noise, mess and confusion.

Okay, maybe more than occasionally.

But as I stood under the tree in the rainy front yard I realized that when the mess goes, so will the crowds. I’ll see some of them over Christmas vacation, as I still see some of Wally’s friends. But I will know less and less about them and, eventually, when they show up on my front lawn a few years from now, I will probably not recognize them.

And Wally and the Snapper. They’ll come home. But they will never really live here again. During the party I heard Wally tell someone he lived on campus. As I was dropping him off at the bus I asked, “You know longer think of yourself as living here, do you?” And he said, “It’s not my house, though it’s still my home.” I said, “Nice save,” and let him out.

But it’s true.

This part of parenting is almost over. They may still need me, but they’re definitely moving on. As they should. As should I.

So no, I didn’t cry at graduation. But standing under the tree on a silent Sunday evening, I suddenly felt like it. And maybe I did.

Or maybe that was just a few final raindrops shaking themselves off the branches.

Knocked out by a potato missile.

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