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Posts Tagged ‘growing up’

Happy Graduation to you!

Happy Graduation to you!

A row of backpacks lines one wall, neatly hanging on their designated hooks. Shoes are tucked into their allotted slots; name tags tell everyone where their things belong.

Tiny chairs are arranged in rows. Streamers crisscross the ceiling, balloons hang from every available space. A small table holds homemade cupcakes, apple and orange slices and plastic cups filled with juice.

We file into the room quietly, not really sure what to expect. I turn my head and there you are, my baby, standing shoulder to shoulder with your classmates, a blue paper hat propped crookedly on your head. You see me and smile, a proud grin stretching across your entire face.

It is graduation day.

There are tears. The teacher gets choked up less than two sentences into her opening remarks and I feel my own tears join her. I am not one to allow anyone to cry alone.

There is a little slide show, diplomas and gifts are presented and 30 adults do the delicate dance of moving in to take pictures and then back out of the way for the next child. My father-in-law takes his position as the family photographer so I don’t have to bother. I know he will take care of the pictures. There will be perfect shots to send to relatives, post for friends, print for the photo albums. I will thank him later for that, for taking care of that so I don’t have to.  For allowing me to just sit and watch.

Watch you wait anxiously for your turn to be called, the smile on your face when it finally is. Watch you carefully walk across the classroom and take your diploma, laughing as your teacher shakes your hand and turn to smile, pose for all of the pictures that will allow us to remember the day.

Not that I can imagine ever forgetting this day; these images stamped on my mind.

After my in-laws and my husband leave, I stay, mingling a little with the other parents, nibbling on a cupcake and sipping my juice.

My son pulls me by the hand around the classroom, “Mama, look at our caterpillar, he’s in a cocoon now!”

“Look, this is my cubby and these are my shoes”

“Look, this is a picture of my friend Kevin and the volcano we built. It was my favourite thing this year!”

Look, look, look.

I know Buddy, I’m looking at it all. And the whole time I’m looking at you and trying to remember you, in this moment, forever.

Because everyone else in the room looks at you and sees you, as you are now.  But I look at you and see six years of memories all rolled up in your little body.  I see months of late nights and painfully early mornings, scraped knees and bruised feelings, bedtime stories and morning kisses.  I see a terrifying trip to the emergency room, a hundred rocks thrown into the lake, a dozen early mornings at the ice rink, your face lit up in excitement when it’s finally time to step on the ice.  I see melted popsicle dripping off your chin, sand in your shoes, bubbles in the bathtub and rubbing your head as you fall asleep, your eye lashes fanning out on your impossibly soft cheeks.

I see it all.

And now I see you here, with a paper hat on your head, cupcake crumbs on your chin and one shoelace untied on your “fancy” shoes that you asked to wear especially for today.  You seem so incredibly grown up and yet so impossibly young, all in the same moment.  I can hardly breath, it’s all so much to take in.

Fancy shoes.

Fancy shoes.

But I steady myself.

This day is about beginnings, not endings.  It’s about the future, and although it inevitably makes me think of the past, I force myself not to get stuck there, as I so often do.  Instead I will focus on all that you’ve accomplished and yes, perhaps even all that we have accomplished, together, you and I.

It is the end of a chapter, but there’s still so much of the book yet to be written.

I can’t wait to read it.

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My mom was in town recently and we took advantage and headed out one afternoon for a girls day. Along with my daughter we took the train downtown for a theatre production of the Wizard of Oz.

It was exactly the kind of thing we would have done when I was a child, when my grandmother was visiting from out of town. And it struck me, sitting there in the darkened theatre, that I am now in the middle.

I am now the one who plans the outings and makes the arrangements. As my grandmother always did before her, my mom is now the one who pays for the tickets and comes along for the show. My daughter now sits where I once sat, dangling her legs in the chair, eyes wide with excitement while watching the show.

And I have to admit, the realization made me kind of sad.

In the middle.

I’m old enough to know that the magic on the stage is really just strings and lights. I know that people get old, made even more obvious by the very absence of my grandmother who, in my heart, should be there with us. Of course my mind knows that’s impossible, so limited are her abilities now that she finds it difficult to do the most routine tasks.

I wonder if my mom is thinking the same thing, remembering when it was her in the middle with her mother beside her.

From where I am in the middle I am surrounded by both the future and the past. It is a beautiful thing, to see this invisible thread, tying together generations of women in my family, but it is also the very definition of bittersweet.

I struggle to focus more on the sweet than the bitter, my predisposition to find the negative rearing its ugly head. I find it hard to take a moment to enjoy it. In the middle I feel the need to manage. I am the one in charge of our schedule, the tickets, the plans. I can feel the weight of it on my shoulders. It’s my job to ensure everything goes right, that everyone has fun, that we make memories to carry with us.

But what I’d really like to do is sit and swing my feet on the chair and have someone ask if I want an ice cream. To go back to a time when my biggest job was holding someone’s hand to cross the street. A time when I didn’t fully comprehend that people get old, and sick, and stop being able to come to the show.

I know there’s no point wishing to go back; time will keep marching on and eventually we all move with it, taking our new spots in the order of things. And maybe one day I will be lucky enough to sit in the spot where my mom sits now, enjoying a show with my daughter and grand-daughter.

And I will look over at my daughter, taking her turn in the middle, and I will remember how difficult it was to be there.

So I will offer to hold the tickets.

And I will ask her if she wants an ice cream.

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As with most kids, there was a time when I saw snow as an adventure. Growing up in a place that didn’t get a lot of snow meant that it was quite the novelty when it did arrive. When you live in a city with less than a dozen snow plows, more than a dusting of snow usually meant schools closed, roads impassable and lots of free time spent sliding down the nearest hill on whatever flat, smooth object you could get your hands on.

I have a vivid memory of laying down in a pile of newly fallen snow in my backyard one evening, staring up at the sky while the flakes tickled my cheeks and eyelids. I remember thinking that the sky, even though it was nearing dark, was roughly the same colour as the snow I was laying in. I wondered how that was possible and since that moment I have always loved a “snow sky” as I coined it.

I grew up in a house at the top of a steep hill. Great if you were a daredevil and liked to go really fast down it on your bike, but not very conducive to winter travel. On really snowy days I remember my mom having to park our blue station wagon (complete with stylish wood paneling) at the bottom of the hill and we would have to do the hike on foot. There were usually a handful of other cars parked there as well and we would usually pass some neighbours doing the exact same hike on our way up. When it only snowed once or twice a year, snow tires were seen as an unnecessary luxury.

Our driveway was also steep and had a concrete retaining wall running along one side. My older brother somehow determined that the wall ran at the exact perfect slope for beer bottles to slide down so we used to make bobsled-like courses for them to dip and dive down. We would drag buckets of water outside to ice up the track and make the bottles go even faster. Of course inevitably we would spill a bucket of water (or two) and break a beer bottle (or six) turning our driveway into a steep, slippery skating rink littered with broken glass. It’s a wonder our family didn’t spend more time in the emergency room.

But all that has changed now that I’m an ‘adult.’ I live in a place where snow is the norm, not the exception, for at least four months of every year. We’re supposed to get a doozy of a storm tonight and through the day tomorrow and I’m dreading it. The roads are going to be awful, public transit is going to be a disaster and all I can do is stare out the window and hate every flake as it falls.

No matter how hard I try I can’t seem to find the sense of wonder that used to come with a good snowfall. When you’re an adult, snow means disruptions, plans made and broken, alternate arrangements, and back-breaking shoveling. Thinking about it all just makes me feel old and tired.

Winter wonderland? Not so much.

Sometimes being a grownup really sucks.

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I don’t remember the last time you slept in bed with us. You used to do it all the time; I used to dream of the day when it would stop. You managed to take up a lot of room for a little person and your knees and elbows always found their way into the small of my back, digging around between my ribs.

I don’t remember the last time you reached out to hold my hand to cross the street. Now when I try to reach for yours you roll your eyes at me and whine “moooooooom.” Apparently you’re too old for things like that.

I don’t remember the last time you cried when you went to school or daycare or to your grandparents. You always went fairly willingly without us, always yearning for a new adventure, the next challenge you could tackle alone.

I don’t remember the last time I read a story to you without you reading along with me. I am so excited that you can experience the wonder of reading books by yourself; opening doors to a whole other world for you. But I miss reading out loud to you, rocking with you in our chair which neither one of us really fits in anymore, let alone together.

I do remember the last time you used a bottle and how proud of you we were for finally giving them up. At the time we thought you would never willingly throw them away. We spent many hours coming up with strategies and tricks to get you to move to a sippy cup. I was sure we had somehow ruined you, your teeth, your stomach, by letting you use them as long as we did. Now I wish I wouldn’t have made such a big deal about it.

I do remember the last time you rode a bike with training wheels. You were so desperate to be a big girl. I could see you sitting on your “little kid” bike at the end of the driveway, watching with envy as other neighbourhood kids rode by on their two-wheelers. I wanted to tell you that it’s okay; not to rush; to enjoy being a kid as long as you could. I knew you wouldn’t listen even if I did say the words out loud.

I do remember the last time you fit into the dress that my grandmother had made for me. You pranced around the living room in it, even though the zipper would barely close and it was about 4 inches too short. After I managed to convince you to change out of it I tucked it away in your closet so you wouldn’t pull it out and try to wear it again. Now it will be put away as it was for the years before you wore it. Put away to be pulled out years from now, maybe when you have a daughter yourself and maybe she’ll dance around in it just the way you did, that last time.

So often being a parent is about the “first times.” The first step, the first word, the first smile. I’m slowly learning that it’s actually the “last times” that mean the most.

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I sat alone, in front of the tv, with tears streaming down my face.

I tell you – the show “Parenthood” does it to me every week. This week I was actually watching last week’s episode. The blissful convenience of the PVR allows me to become hopelessly behind in my tv watching, even when it’s only the second week of the new fall schedule.

It was the end of the episode and Hattie (teenage daughter) stood in line at the airport, waiting to get on a plane to head off to college. In the span of 10 seconds the expression on her face went from excited, independent young woman to scared, tearful little girl and she ran back to her parents for one more hug, one more goodbye.

Sitting on my couch, watching, my face did pretty much the same thing. Because it struck me immediately that I had been that girl. A little more than 17 years ago, I was that girl, standing in almost that exact same position, doing that exact same thing.

I spent much of my teenage years dreaming of that moment, of the time I would get out on my own, start fresh, begin a new adventure. I had wished, hoped, imagined, planned, never so much as a single doubt crossing my mind.

Until it was time to say goodbye.

In that instant I went from a confident 17 year-old to a frightened child. I wanted to hold on to my parents and tell them not to go. I wanted to scream at them to not leave me there alone and ask how I was supposed to do this on my own.

No matter that I was the one who had chosen this, begged for this. None of that mattered anymore. I wanted to take everything we had just unpacked in my little dorm room and put it back in my suitcases so we could fly back home, back to everything that was familiar and easy. Back to my room, my friends, my life.

But we didn’t do that. Instead we hugged for a few more minutes while my mom and I wiped the tears from each other’s cheeks and my dad nervously jingled the keys from the rental car in his hand.

Then we each turned away, knowing that like so many things in life, you just have to tear off the band-aid and let it hurt really bad for a few minutes, and then it will slowly feel better.

All of that flashed before me as I sat on the couch and watched a similar scene play out on the tv. All of that and the fact that in 10 short years, my daughter will be old enough to head off to university on her own. A long time, sure, but considering that the past 17 years have passed, seemingly, in the blink of any eye, really not that long at all.

And then it occurred to me that in the not too distant future, I will probably have to live through that whole scene again.

Only next time I will not be that girl.

Next time I will be that woman, that mother. I will not be the one going, but instead will be the one letting go.

And I cried a little more.

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I saw the text from my mom – just that one single line and my mind started to race. What’s wrong? Who’s hurt? If it was something really bad she would have just called, right? Maybe it’s just sort-of-bad? What could have happened that would fall into the category of sort-of-bad?

I didn’t call her right away. In my heart I knew I should but I wanted to give myself a few more minutes of ‘normal’ before I heard whatever bad news I assumed was coming my way. I wanted to prolong the ‘before’ – to have a bit more time before stepping across the line into the world of ‘after.’

In those few minutes I thought about all of the other phone calls and the news that had come with them: your son is throwing up, or the test is positive, or she passed away.

I tried to remember a time when “call me” meant good news. I’m sure phone calls used to tell of meeting ‘the one,’ news of engagements or new babies, but now they seem to hold only bad news. These days good news comes via e-mail or through Facebook updates but bad news still comes over the phone.

Growing up has changed me from someone who excitedly anticipated good news to someone who nervously dreads the bad.

I finally took a few deep breaths, picked up the phone and dialed. She answered in a normal voice and made some small talk. I tried not to anxiously rush her to the point; tried not to make it seem like I was expecting the worst.

“Hold on, I’ll let you talk to your dad. He has some news.”

Deep breaths. Just breathe. I’m sure it’s fine.
And it was fine. Turns out my dad has a new job. After years of retirement he’s decided to re-enter the workforce and he’s happy about it. So I’m happy about it too.

And I can breathe a little easier. At least until next time.

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