Mommy Graduation

Mommies graduate too!

Earlier this month I experienced mounting anxiety as my youngest approached graduation; but not because he wasn’t ready.

It was me.

flat,1000x1000,075,fI’ve devoted a lifetime to children, and not just the past 21 years to my boys and their school; but the decade before that to the children in my classroom, and even the decades before that, to my seven younger siblings.

Underneath the separation anxiety is
and underneath that,
a deeper truth:


I’ve been ready.

But the readiness doesn’t diminish the loss.
The vacuum.
Where there once was Everything.

hot-airLast night, he graduated.
I graduated.
(From the last of them.)

My baby will leave the hill that shaped our lives together,
and head to town,
to the high school,
where his father teaches.

And me?
How do I feel?
That’s what people ask, expecting

I barely slept.
I tossed and turned and fretted.

It may have been the champagne,
but I kept thinking of bubbles
and all things
that float…

Finally, my mind settled in on
and then to a single

and the way,


as she lightens


the fading of the kindergarten wall

Aidan at the bus stop, with his luggage.

3:36 pm. The school bus stops at our driveway, across from the pond, but no one gets off.

Our youngest, 14, has just, this very moment, touched down in Liberia, Costa Rica with his Junior High classmates.

When his older brother made the same trip a handful of years ago, I was a wreck; but he was only 12.

Still, I’ve splintered this entire day checking the status updates of Jet Blue and the posts in our parent Facebook group.

We brought our kids to school last night at 2:30 in the morning, and gathered in the parking lot in front of the bus until everyone arrived. We chatted like it was normal to be there, in the dark, in the middle of the night, hanging out. Someone joked about getting breakfast, and we all felt the pull of longing after a long winter that has protracted itself into spring.

3:00 am
3:00 am

The yellow school bus heading to JFK, manned by their classroom teacher, pulled out, on time, at 3:00 am, and two sets of parents cheered. Not for the kids. But for us. We were heading home childless. For 9 days!

By the time I got in the car though, the emptiness overtook me, and when I crawled back into bed, my mind skipped from thought to thought and wouldn’t let me rest.

Aidan graduates this June. People dismiss elementary school graduations as excessive and unnecessary, but they are truly poignant in our community. This particular rite of passage comes after 12+ years with the same peers before splintering off to a number of different public and private schools in the area. (Our town doesn’t have a high school so the tax dollars are applied to a school of choice.)

The graduation is also distinguished by the school itself. Completing your tenure at Marlboro Elementary is a one of a kind experience–steeped in ritual, initiation, rigor and love.

At the graduation ceremony itself, the students proceed through a canopy of teachers and staff joining hands above them; and then the students take the podium to host the ceremony themselves, even secretly choosing the guest speaker in the months before hand.

Theirs is a combined class of 7th and 8th graders, so it’s the families of the youngers who host the reception afterward; and the next day, these 7th graders return to their classroom, on their own, to greet the upcoming sixth graders.

Prior to the graduation ceremony, other rituals take place:

  • the reading of poetry from their own kindergarten days in the company of the current kindergarten class;
  • the weekly literature tea followed by an annual game of croquet–with students dressed in their finest hats and light colored clothing (a sight rarely seen in these parts);
  • a hands-on tie-tying examination which is a longtime rite of passage at Marlboro Elementary;
  • a private Consortium for graduates and their families where 8th graders step up to the podium in the Town Hall, built in 1822, to share an exemplary personal essay;
  • a portfolio presentation where an individual graduate (assisted by a 7th grade classmate) presents his best work from each of her years at the school to his parents and select teaching staff;
  • a Cabaret, put on by the Junior High, and held in the evening, in the theater at Marlboro College;
  • and my favorite–the last All School Sing–highlighting the favorite songs of the graduates at the final all school gathering.
sadly, the only photo I can find of Aidan and me at All School Sing
sadly, the only photo I can find of Aidan and me at All School Sing–a dancing day

This past Monday, feeling the departure of my son on the horizon, I attended the weekly All School Sing, and sat across the room from the boy who once insisted on sitting on my lap, and then at my feet, and then just a few bodies away.

Now he has his own chair in the outer circle with the adults while his younger peers take a spot inside the circle on the floor.

I look over at my son from time to time to see if he sees me, but his focus is on his peers until one of our favorite songs is sung: Kindergarten Wall.

I imagine that I began punctuating the lines, “CLEAN UP YOUR MESS,” to his older brother long before I began turning toward Aidan with them; and it’s become a family joke; a duel of sorts; particularly as Aidan turns the song back in my direction with his own emphasis of a handful of lines, punctuating the “grownups”:

But lately I’ve been worried as I look around and see
An awful lot of grown-ups acting foolish as can be
Now I know there’s lots of things to know I haven’t mastered yet
But it seems there’s real important stuff that grown-ups soon forget…

I am relieved to see that at 14, Aidan still plays along, even from across the room; although now he does so with his eyes more than his voice. After school, he reminds me that the part directed to adults is a whole section long; and I smile, happy for the connection, with a tinge of loss, knowing that  has already left the messy stage of childhood and had has headed into the foolishness of aging.

The last song sung was another family favorite, one which is always shared at the Sing before the Junior High takes their bi-annual trip abroad:

Leaving on a Jet Plane

Long mistaken as Peter, Paul & Mary’s, my boys and I know to whom this song belongs.

Their sixth grade teacher, a jazz lover, detests John Denver’s crooning, so we make a point to emphasize that this is his song; and David makes a point to leave the room.

Last year, Aidan argued at great lengths with his music teacher about it. She finally conceded in a phone message to our house that evening: “Aidan was right; but Peter, Paul and Mary were the ones to make it famous.”

a classroom, transformed
a classroom, transformed

As we sing, “All my bags are packed, I’m ready to go…” a lump forms in my throat, just as Aidan motions for me to turn toward the back of the room where David is departing.

I smile and simultaneously realize that Aidan and I have sung in this room together since he was a babe in arms. We sang Leaving on Jet Plane to every class since then.

But when that school bus pulls back into the parking lot next week after midnight, there will only be a few All School Sings left between us.

Kindergarten Wall

When I was a little kid not so long ago
I had to learn a lot of stuff I didn’t even know
How to dress myself, tie my shoes, how to jump a rope
How to smile for a picture without looking like a dope
But of all the things I learned my favorite of them all
Was a little poem hanging on the kindergarten wall


Of all you learn here remember this the best:
Don’t hurt each other and clean up your mess
Take a nap everyday, wash before you eat
Hold hands, stick together, look before you cross the street
And remember the seed in the little paper cup:
First the root goes down and then the plant grows up!

Well, it was first, second, third grade, fourth grade, too
Where I had to learn the big things the big kids do
To add, subtract, and multiply, read and write and play
How to sit in a little uncomfortable desk for nearly half a day
But of all they taught me my favorite of them all
Was the little poem hanging on the kindergarten wall


But lately I’ve been worried as I look around and see
An awful lot of grown-ups acting foolish as can be
Now I know there’s lots of things to know I haven’t mastered yet
But it seems there’s real important stuff that grown-ups soon forget
So I’m sure we’d all be better off if we would just recall
That little poem hanging on the kindergarten wall


©1988 by John McCutcheon. Published by Appalsongs (ASCAP).


(from my journal, 1993)


Dear Someone,

Dear anyone!

I’m looking for you to cry out.

I anguish.

I hurt.

I suffer.

The world is beautiful.
I don’t see it.

You are kind.
I won’t feel it.

Dreams come true.
I don’t need them.

The music sings to me.
I can’t hear it.

I’m locked inside this
suffering mind

trapped in pain
wrapped up in anguish

and I don’t know where the
answers are

can’t see to look
can’t feel to find
can’t hear to listen.

CHORES–Why they’re WORTH the FIGHT

I’ve written about the importance of chores before, including these posts:

The Necessity of Chores


How Full is Your Plate? an online workshop for moms

But what I’ve failed to fully admit is how much easier it would be to  do everything myself.
(And it would be done a lot better.)

Why do I bother?

I’d like to say that I do it all for them–to make them better citizens, humans, energetic beings (and that is true); but another truth is that I don’t want to do everything so it’s worth it to have some jobs done less than perfectly.

BUT the angst. THE ANGST!
The reminding. The redirecting. The reprimands.

Sometimes I find myself questioning if it’s worth it, and questioning whether I should be encouraging other people to suffer like this by leading workshops on chore sharing in the home.

And then there are those other times, when in the distance, I hear the sweet and soothing sound of a boy swishing a toilet, or vacuuming a room, or emptying waste baskets; and I think: I AM BRILLIANT.

But what if you like doing your own chores and want them done perfectly?

I still recommend sharing the load. Here’s why:

The Necessity of Chores

But what if your teen’s resistance is so strong that it takes way more energy than you can manage to keep them in the game?

It’s still vital. For them.
Try a dose of creativity, like this:


And now for a new chunk of highly salient information expanding on why it’s worth the EFFORT:

Kids need conflict to grow up. Particularly teenagers. It’s part of the individuation process. It’s how they begin to separate from our cozy nest and shape their own flight.

When I accept that conflict is necessary, I surrender to it, and not just that, I RESPECT it.

This is quite revolutionary.

Conflict isn’t in the way,
it IS The Way.

I’d like to take credit for this awareness, but my therapist gets a lot of that.

See this post for how I put it into action:

Episiotomy (of love)

And here’s something even more radical for your consideration:

Since conflict is a necessary part of the developmental process, particularly with teens, then how cool is it that they get their daily/weekly dose of parental conflict in a way that makes such a foundational difference in family life–working together to honor and contribute to the space we share–rather than investing it in other areas with much higher stakes.  (Think sex, drugs, alcohol.)

Episiotomy (of love)

broken_heart1Last night I felt the “Lloyd void.”

Lloyd is my first born, and after a month at home (following a season abroad), we deposited him back at the university.

This. This is my first morning of my first week alone in the home since before Thanksgiving.

I work at home. I require clear space to do my work. Emotionally. Physically. Mentally.

After a month of sweet chaos together, Lloyd’s final week home was so turbulent as to render the separation less severe. (Think episiotomy.)

The tension reached its physical climax, however, on our final morning together, as we stood face to face, above the last box, in a tug of war–with a kettle.

I knew that the unpacking of this last box wasn’t entirely rational, especially since it was already loaded into the car.

But it wasn’t organized. It had a jumble of food and pharmacy and odds and ends that had no business together; and more importantly, I couldn’t tell if he had everything he needed. Without me.

So before he got up, I unpacked it and resorted it–into like items–each with their own smaller box; and then I dashed around the house, adding things–like tea, and bandaids and peanutbutter.

When he came down the stairs to the sight of this intrusion, he was appalled. He started throwing everything back into the larger box; while I tried to stop him. Like the tide. Of time. And life. And love.

The kettle was large enough that we could both have our hands on it at the same time. We each pulled in our own direction.

“Let me have this,” I said, and I didn’t mean the kettle.

Please, let me have this irrational, let-me-do-this-last-thing-for-you, mother-panicked, moment.

And he did.

Passion. Purpose. Partying.

There are two freedoms – the false, where a man is free to do what he likes;
the true, where he is free to do what he ought.
~Charles Kingsley

Is it me or is there something inherently wrong with dropping your child off at college? And not just because you’re leaving him at an institution. But because that institution is filled with throngs of the people who are of the same age and predilection.

Photo: J. Scott Applewhite/AP/Corbis

Is this kind of homogeneous grouping  ever a good idea? Think of nursing homes. Prisons. The military. North Korea. British cooking. Congress.

As we arrive at my son’s new, sophomore year suite, we find his roommates steeped in the activity of the only Sunday night of the semester without homework.

I fight the urge to say,”You don’t have to stay.” Instead I whisper, “Everything is a choice.”

He whispers back, teasing me: “Like heroin?”

“Yes, like heroin,” I say, “And staying in this dorm.”

As we hug goodbye in the hallway, I suggest that he reconsider the academic dorm, but he lets me know that those students are even more serious about drugs.

I don’t want him to be too serious.  I think fun is important. In fact, when we arrived at the top of the stairs with his luggage and I heard the music blaring through the door of his suite, I had a moment of remembering.

The abandon.

The freedom.

I like freedom.

Partying is one way to explore it.

But it can quickly become a destination instead of an avenue.

(Plus, college is an expensive party.)


Take Your Kids

Tell them why: