Last weekend, our daughter graduated from high school. I brought three packages of tissues to the ceremony and a camera with a 600 mm lens. I was not going to miss her face as she walked across the stage. I was prepared to weep openly, unapologetically, for two hours. I didn’t open a single package. Actually, that is not true. I got a fingerprint on my glasses and used a tissue to clean them. I did not, however, shed a single tear.
Don’t get me wrong. I have cried thinking about graduation for the past year. I just did not cry that day, as I imagined I would. The truth is that I could not have been anything but joyful on that day.
As I confessed earlier, I was in a flurry of activity getting ready. My youngest sister and I were planting flowers and decorating the house the day before graduation.
We strung twine on the walls and hung pictures of my daughter with family and friends throughout her life. As I looked at all the big moments and the small ones, all my fears and sadness slipped away. I saw her dressed as a snowflake riding on my dad’s shoulders. I saw her wide-eyed on her grandmother’s lap reading a book. I saw her giggling in her silly uncle’s arms and snuggling with her cousin. I saw her bouncing on the bed in a cabin at Kalaloch wearing red suspenders her dad bought for her in an Ace Hardware store in Forks. I saw her growing older in the arms of her aunts. I saw her playing basketball and softball, boxing, skating, rowing, and tumbling. I saw her laughing and hugging her best friends who held her close through heartbreak and loss, and shared mischief, laughter and joy.
I saw her hand in hand walking down the beach with her dad and riding with me top down in the sun. I saw her with the teachers who shaped her education and her character. I saw her with the community of family we have made with our friends – the aunties, uncles, cousins, and grandparents not of birth but of love still the same. That string of pictures held the first chapters of a life built on love. Not much to cry about there. Unless you are crying tears of joy.
On the day of graduation, my dearest friends pitched in to get ready for the party. I could not have pulled it off without them. They worked so hard to set everything up while we were at the ceremony so that we could have the party while my family was in town. I have the kind of friends who grab their keys and are out the door before you even ask for help. They are the kind of friends who pull together for each other no matter what. I realized that she will be just fine. Because I know, in good times and bad, I am surrounded by big love from family and friends. And that is what we have raised her in- big love.
Leading up to this day, as I suspect all graduates do, our daughter has had moments of fear and sadness. She will miss her friends. She will miss the safety of a community that supports her. She will be challenged to go farther academically and personally that she has thus far. I have reminded her that she is ready. I know she will make friends. I know that she will achieve her goals. I have assured her that she has a safety net of people who love her and will be there to support her as she takes these first steps into independence, even when she is away at college.
On graduation day, I realized that we too are ready as parents. I realized that we too have a safety net of people who love and support us. They will be there as she takes these steps away from us. They will be there for her and they will be there for us. And we will be there for them when the time comes with big love.