Thoughts of a mom of young kids watching her niece graduate from high school.

image via Google
image via Google


Last night I attended my niece Sabrina’s high school graduation. Being a mom of two girls aged 2 and 4, it’s not often I get to blog about a direct experience in teenager-related milestones, so I thought this would be a fun opportunity for me.

I think the last high school graduation I attended was that of Sabrina’s older brother, Shaun, four years ago. And just like last time, I was 45 minutes late. That’s ok, because I arrived just in time to hear the faculty speaker, who was interesting and funny. And then they got right into the awarding of diplomas, all 300 something of them.

I was close to 9 months pregnant at Shaun’s graduation. Fortunately, this time, I was not, because I had to park in a fire lane at the bottom of the hill and trek up to the football field, in heels. It was also not blisteringly hot like last time. I would have taken just one of those conditions, but to be non-pregnant AND non-melty from heat and humidity just makes attending a high school graduation ceremony such a treat. A treat for me, anyway. My world is strange.

So back to that faculty speaker. He started off with a quote attributing unflattering qualities to the youth population, and then explained that this quote was in fact Plato, talking about the generation that Socrates belonged to, over two thousand years ago. The point was about how each generation will always criticize the one that comes after it. It was funny and poignant. He threw in some thoughts about how the parents of the class of 2014 are different from their own parents; how they give out trophies to every kid just for showing up. I agree with this assessment of modern parenting. He then was quick to explain that this cultural change is not the fault of parents. With this, I also agree. A societal pressure has pushed us to focus so overwhelmingly on the perceived needs, wants, and dreams of our children. The parents of baby boomers (my parents) would never have been so child-centered in their approach to parenting.

Validation of my parenting abilities and the forces that shape my attitudes toward child-rearing—I like these graduation exercises so far. What next?

As the kids lined up to march toward their futures, my sister turned to me and eerily read my mind. “Are you thinking about Mackenzie and Aurelia walking with their high school classes?” Oh my god, I was. I so totally was, even though those days feel like they’re an eternity away. Between my toddler’s continued insistence on nighttime nursing (OH MY GOD, THIS KID IS GOING TO BREASTFEED UNTIL SHE’S 30 YEARS OLD), and my preschooler’s naptime potty accident (ack, thought we were done with that!), there is no way I can comprehend my daughters attending college orientations, and going to the after-graduation, PTA-sponsored all-night party. But that’s exactly the vision that possessed me as I watched Sabrina cross the stage in her white cap and gown.

So here we are, me, my sister, and Sabrina’s friend’s mom, all trying to clap and say WOOO and snap pictures with our phones at the same time. Actually, I lie. Just before Sabrina walked, my sister just got this really intense look on her face and held her phone up. “I’m not clapping. Got to take video. I’m just going to stand up and record her walking. Video.” Uh, ok. I could feel the intensity of her gaze as she proudly held her phone up to the gazelle like beauty (my niece is wicked tall) striding forward, diploma in hand. This stuff is serious! I commend my sister for being thoroughly present in that moment, one with the football field, a seamless extension of that spirit and energy enveloping the land and air around us.

Ok, so I’m being a bit campy here, but it really was a proud and fun moment. I sat there and watched all 300-something kids walk. Some kid introduced a blow-up doll (yes, that kind of doll) into the crowd, buffeting it back and forth over the students’ heads like a beach ball.  What was the school going to do, expel them?  They were graduating.  It was eventually taken away, however.

So, that was all fun. Here’s what I’m going to do now. Sabrina is having a graduation party in a couple of weekends. As part of my gift to her, I want to write her a nice note containing unsolicited advice for college and beyond. I don’t think she’s figured out what a dork I am yet, so it’s not too late for me to impart some wisdom to her under the guise that I am cool, not to mention so put together, and with all this career and family stuff figured out. Haha, just kidding. It’s so totally obvious to anyone who spends more than thirty seconds with me that I am none of those things.

But hey, who better to provide helpful advice in that arena than someone who faces it head-on every day? Sabrina is going to be working while going to college, like I did. I won’t say yet what she’ll be doing, but let’s just say that it’s going to be a lot cooler than the job I held waiting tables. More importantly, while I had to bust my ass running food to impatient restaurant patrons to help defray the cost of school, so I could go on to do something completely different in life, she’ll be taking on this work as a boost to her career, as well as for the added benefit of extra cash. That is a very nice place to be in, and I have some thoughts about how she can maximize that opportunity, and the many more opportunities that I know will come knocking at her door.

And if she discards my helpful ideas in favor of her own, that’s fine with me—she possesses the raw talent and smarts to know how find her path without being pushed toward it. I don’t want to push her; I just want to extend my hand.  I think that’s what the faculty speaker was trying to get at, although he wasn’t speaking directly to me as a parent, but to the Class of 2014.  You can be an awesome parent by holding out a hand for your kids, when they need you–but in some cases, you just can’t be afraid to let go.  I suspect graduating from high school must be one of those times.

Now back to worrying about Kindergarten readiness, and where I’m going to find a My Little Pony bounce house for my kid’s birthday party. Happy Graduation to my awesome niece!

image credit: M. Dunn
image credit: M. Dunn

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