The Graduate

My insides are humming. The low-grade buzz of bewilderment mixed with nerves and how did we get here?

In my head, a gaping space. Hollowness. I don’t remember.

So I freeze like a statue in the kitchen while the bread toasts. Memories present themselves for inspection.

Slowly at first.

Then, all at once, these details crowd my brain:

The slap of shoe against blacktop on his first day of kindergarten. A parade of classrooms and patient teachers. Folders checked. Reading logs signed. Lunches. Snacks. Harry Potter books. The Velveteen Rabbit Tea and a Gold Rush Musical. We the People. One mission project. Countless tears shed over a Jackie Robinson speech. I’ll never be able to memorize it, he sobbed until he memorized it.

After school we’d walk together to the car, his little sister there too, happy to be next to him and one year behind.

They talked and talked (and talked) over each other. Sometimes I listened. Sometimes I tuned out.

He watched Nickelodeon and The Disney Channel when his homework was done. I tried not to worry too much about charting screen time. We played Apples to Apples and Who Knew and Memory and some firefighter rescue game (the name of which I can’t remember) and CLUE and Monopoly.

Doesn’t everyone play Monopoly?

He tried soccer, basketball, baseball, guitar, swim lessons. Then, finally, karate.

In middle school, he began each morning ready to take on the day with his whole heart. Wear green for Spirit Day? YES! My boy was all in. Green socks. Green shirt. Green hat. Something green wrapped around his arms (I can’t remember what). As he bounced down the street (full of spirit!), I worried he’d be embarrassed.

He was too thrilled to be embarrassed. At least not much.

The years passed without teen-movie stereotypes of extreme awkwardness, rebellion, or popularity. I won no trophies for Volunteer of the Year and he wasn’t valedictorian or the MVP of any team. We were generally ordinary and that was okay.
It still is. Okay.

We ate dinner together when our schedules allowed, and I fixed him breakfast every morning of his life until he decided (recently) that eggs at six o’clock no longer appealed. He leaves for school at 6:30 and when he goes to lunch afterward with his friends then straight to his job delivering pizzas, I sometimes don’t see him for 24 hours.

A hello in the morning, then nothing until the next morning.

Have a great day. Be safe. I love you.

He says I love you back every time. This means more to me than I have words for.

Soon he’ll be in Oregon for college and I’ll be here with his dad and his sister, one year behind him.

But on his last day of school, he ambles down the stairs and I steal a quick kiss, then a long hug.

Have a great day. Be safe. I love you.

After he leaves, I search my heart for what we could’ve done differently, what I could’ve done better. 18 years.

This was our one shot at it. That’s all you get.

One shot.

As a parent, you know this, but somehow while you’re checking the clock, wishing the witching-hour away, you forget.

No. That’s not right. I didn’t forget. I just got through each day one at a time until I’d gotten through all the days.

A blur of joy and pain and smiles and frustration that fill the individual moments of a childhood. In hindsight, most hard stuff softens around the edges. What’s left (for me) is this quiet certainty: we had a good run.

The minutes drag, but the years fly. Don’t blink. Life is short. They grow up so quickly.

Despite these warnings (and they’re everywhere, all the time) you can’t feel the truth of it until you’re looking backward, moving away from what was. People tell you having a child is a love like no other. You try to imagine, but it doesn’t live in your bones until it’s already happened to you.

To us.

Our time together isn’t over. There will be the next phase and the next one and the next.

But this time—the stretch of years where he was my son under this roof, and I got to be his only mother—we’ve reached the end.

And the beginning of something else.

You and I, Jack.

We had a good run.

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24 thoughts on “The Graduate

  1. Oh my goodness. What a way to start a Monday. I’m about to go downstairs to make a 3,254th school lunch (times two!), thinking “I only have 3 more days of this before summer, yay!” But you’ve put all that into perspective. Someday I’ll make the last lunch. I’m definitely not ready. This is so beautiful. I hope Jack reads it.

  2. Deb

    Sobbing — for reasons you know.

  3. NannyK

    “In hindsight, most hard stuff softens around the edges. What’s left (for me) is this quiet certainty: we had a good run.” Yes you did, Sis! Well played❤️❤️❤️ I love you and Bill and Jack and KK! So proud of your precious fam!!

  4. So glad I read this at home rather than at work, because tears are streaming down my face. Your words. So beautiful. Just like you.

  5. Kristi

    You put into words all of the things I’m feeling, every single one. So can I just have Charlie read this and say “ditto!” ? Perhaps I should wait until I finish hiccup sobbing (are Kindle screens tearproof?) I love you, and your word magic. Here’s a giant senior mom hug to you And thank you for this, more than you can know.

  6. Bailey

    Oh geez, shouldn’t have read this at work. So sweet! Good luck Jack!

  7. Oh my gosh I’m bawling my eyes out! How YOU doin’?

  8. Diane

    I don’t think I have any tears left. Your beautiful words and sincere sentiment are heartfelt. I have loved watching Jack grow up over these years. You have done well!

  9. Sob. Good luck to all of you on this next phase of parenting and life and love <3

  10. Sue

    Enjoy those amazing moments. I’m sure your next chapter will be just as wonderful. Love you!

  11. This certainly made me bitch less about the lunch I packed today for my first grader. I love you and yours and all of your words and stuff. Congrats, Mama on this incredible run. xoxoxo

  12. Beautiful, Julie. Such an exciting time. My “baby” just graduated college last month and all those years that passed seem like a blur of my most favorite movie.

  13. Lindsay

    A week ago, I cried for a hour after making my very last school lunch. No more back to school shopping, no more first day of school outfits, no more field trips or science projects or counting the days until winter break. So many, many memories and yet the years flew by in an instant. From one mom of a new graduate to another, thank you for putting it all into words.

  14. Laurel Janssen

    Sobbing because I cry at everything, Lexi tells me. You had me at Jackie Robinson.
    What a beautiful tribute to a wonderful son by a talented, radiant mother.

  15. Congratulations Jack. Congratulations momma.

  16. june montuori


  17. Beautiful post, Julie. I am not a mother, but your words make me want to call mine and maybe go give her a hug. Blessings to you and your family as you start a new run.

  18. Tears. Thank you for reminding me to appreciate it even when it’s hard.

  19. JoAnn

    My youngest graduated from high school this past Saturday…you said it all in this post. I have been a single parent for the last 11 you and got through it all by the grace of God and one day at a time. I cried at each of my 3 commencements and marvel at the amazing young people who will head to college in the fall as a senior, junior, and freshman. I am excited to watch them continue to soar and for all of our next chapters. I just sometimes miss the old days. Thanks for sharing, hugs to you!

  20. Courtney

    I always love your writing but I really love this picture❤️

  21. So moving, totally teary.

  22. I’m so close to this that I almost didn’t read it. But I agree, our time isn’t over. We’re just entering another phase. But until that next phase starts, I’m going to soak in every last second of this one and let myself cry about it whenever I damn well feel like it. 😉

  23. Nicole Boyer

    Oh my Lord, you hit it on the head! My baby girl is graduating from high school in 2 days! She is my second baby to graduate and it doesn’t get easier to close these chapters of life. It’s exciting but scary. Thank you for writing this I have to go blow my nose again!

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