This school year, I had kids in college, high school, middle school and elementary school, but this Friday, my second daughter will become a high school graduate and in the fall I'll have two girls (pictured) in college. Only yesterday we were on a family camping trip and those girls (then my only kids) were jumping in a leaf pile.
When Molly walks across the stage Friday, sitting in the front row as a top five percent academic graduate of her class, no careful well-blended amount of pharmaceuticals will be able to keep me from crying. The main goal at that point is really to control the crying so it's a subtle, tear-dab, slow-drip situation versus a full-on, heaving ugly-cry. No one wants that.
We as mothers cry at graduations of course because we're proud, but that's not the real reason. We cry mainly out of guilt. This may be true more for Catholic (recovering Catholic in my case) mothers. The guilt comes accidentally and from a deep-seated place. What should we have done differently or better? Of course it's an unreasonable guilt. I mean the kid never got a B in 12 years of school, she's VP of the National Honor Society, award-winning Drum Major, she's wearing more swaggy colored ribbons on her graduation gown than the prize pig at the county fair. I couldn't have been that shitty of a mom, right?
But that's not what I'll be sitting there crying about, all her success. I'll be thinking "I should have spent more time with her, just us." Why didn't I take her out to the movies without the other kids around? Did I tell her enough how proud I was? All those hours she spent studying in her room—why didn't I go up there more just to see if she needed anything, or be sure she wasn't up too late working?
I wasn't some kind of awful, neglectful mom. I sat in the freezing stands at the 50-yard line of band competitions, in auditoriums of countless concerts, helped get the internship for the veterinarian that she prized above any of her high school experiences, and that led to a vet tech job she starts right after graduation, helping her academically in her pre-vet major at Virginia Tech. I wasn't totally useless. But I'll still sit there (for three-plus agonizing hours of speeches no one will remember 20 minutes later) and think about how time went by and I should have done more as a mother. But I wasn't a helicopter mom and she's a success, a leader. Any adversity she's faced has bred strength. I know Molly will be okay despite what I could have done better.
When you're a mother of four, there's always something more you could’ve done because there are never four places you can be at one time, and maybe that's why those years go by so fast. The long days are longest when they're babies and you're nursing and exhausted. I can barely remember those. Once you get into full on "my life is as chauffeur" mode you pretty much wonder how you became a person whose sole existence seems to revolve around the movement of laundry from machine to machine and children from location to location.
We have to take those little moments of appreciation, the ones where they hand us the homemade Mother's Day cards that say silly little-kid things like "Thanks for making pancakes when you don't want to" and clay handprints with poems that a pre-school teacher took the time to have the kids make, and coupons "to clean out your messy car." We tuck those things away because they’re the true prizes of motherhood. They prove nobody did a shitty job, we just did the best we did with what we knew at the time—those are the types of things we take out and cherish when they're gone.