My column in yesterday’s Greenville News.
This is a momentous year. The youngest of our four children will graduate from Walhalla High School. Since so many readers have followed our family adventures down the years, I thought it was only proper to share this news with our extended family across the region.
This child, however, is our only daughter, Elysa. Few things have the emotional power to shake parents to the core like the realization that their daughter is growing up and moving forward in life. It is remarkable that in what seems a blink, a little one can go from a wee, pink-clad princess to a strong, smart and capable young woman. Who remains your princess.
There is some consolation in the fact that we are not alone. Children all over are walking across stages and moving tassels, to the familiar sounds of ‘Pomp and Circumstance,’ camera shutters and muffled sobs.
But even as we face this new chapter in life, there are other consolations worth discussing. I have pondered these for some time now, through the graduations of our fine sons, and as this one has approached with increasing speed. And I offer them to all of those who, like me, are both excited and terrified at the prospect of the graduation of a child.
For instance, it is a common belief that the graduating child will be gone from their parents’ lives. Allow me to refute that notion. If the relationship is strong, they will be back. They will be back for solace, for food, for vacations, for holidays, for a place to stay during transitions, for weekends and (of course) for money.
They may be back because they aren’t ready. They may be back for a while because the psychological, cultural, financial and spiritual struggles of modern life are often profound; and because loving parents are a safe harbor in hard times. This connection does not simply fade away because of a date on the calendar.
The tie that binds is stronger than most people, parent or child, can even begin to imagine. And here’s a little secret that the young often hesitate to admit. They will be back because they love and miss their parents. Leaving home and going to school, work, military or marriage is probably as hard on them as it is on parents. With graduation, things change. But the relationship remains. If it was good before, it will remain afterward.
I also remind myself, and I remind others, that our children grow up because it is proper that they move on. If they remained with us forever just for our comfort and pleasure, they would be pets; but pets who would grow restive and angry in the end, and who would be unable to care for themselves when our own lives were over. That would be tragic all around; in no small part because the world needs their gifts and passions.
And there is this; all too many parents have lost their dear ones and would give anything to see them grow up, graduate and move on, in the knowledge that they still walked the earth and were a phone call, a letter or a journey away.
The beautiful truth is that they take us with them. In so many ways, we travel the world with our graduating sons and daughters. Sweet Elysa is so much her mother: kind, thoughtful, lovely and purposeful. She tolerates no nonsense but spills compassion from her blue eyes and frequent smile.
From me? Bless her heart, she has a strange sense of humor, a tendency to tirade and a love of things mysterious and poetic. She reads C.S. Lewis; what more can I say?
So as she goes forward, so do bits of us. Hopefully the best bits; probably some of the worst, but that’s for her to sort out in time. Our DNA dwells in her (a more momentous thing than we realize), and our actions and lessons have shaped her for years.
And with her, also, go vast numbers of hugs and kisses. And likewise our words to her; a million ‘I love yous’ and ‘you can do its,’ countless ‘sweet dreams’ and ‘don’t worries.’ Untold ‘whatever you needs’ and ‘we’re proud of yous.’ As well as innumerable prayers sent up on her behalf.
It will all be OK, for her and for us. And in the end, a truth remains. She may graduate from many schools. She will never graduate from being our daughter.