My Daughter’s Senior Photo, It’s Not the Photo We Planned On

This is my senior in high school, who came to my room to sleep by me in the middle of the night. Another night of restless sleep for her, all the uncertainty and all the loss keeping her awake. This is not the “senior photo” we planned to share with the world, but it’s much more real than the glossy ones we took last September.

It’s much more accurate than the ones we took back when we thought she’d have a prom and graduation and senior spring. This senior photo shows a young woman who not only lost the celebrations of an ending but the utterly unclear path into her next beginning.

This is not the senior picture we were planning on showing the world. (Photo via Tina Kruse)

No one yet knows what college will look like for her in the fall and beyond.

She’s been so patient, actually. Since the lockdown in March, she continues at her schoolwork–despite the outbreak, despite senioritis–she completes daily assignments in the AP statistics and US government and other fascinating, yet dramatically irrelevant minutiae.

She sees her dance team on Zoom in abbreviated classes in our basement, instead of the senior season she anticipated. She watched her summer job slip away, her college orientation weekend, her grad party. She announced her college plans on the “virtual” decision day on Instagram and made signs to celebrate her friends’ decisions. We have the “Class of 2020 We Love You” type lawn sign that marks everyone who is weakly attempting to bring joy to a disheartened group of young people.

Last night, she rightly hit a wall. We’d been getting so many messages about colleges’ inability to decide what the new academic year will bring. She’d been getting so many reminders about the restrictions for seeing friends. We had been hearing about the shifting virus projections, feeling our previous hopefulness fall to dejection. It all adds up into a cumulative landslide of bad news.

By the end of the day, we are rightly exhausted. Watching Jimmy Fallon attempt to cheer us up from his own home, she looked at me and burst: What’s the point? Why am I still doing school? What can I even look forward to anymore? What will happen in the fall?

So she cried and I tried to console her and then went to bed. Hours later, she crept in to see me, defeated by insomnia and grief. I took her in, just as I did when she was a 2 year old and also terrified by the world. Together, we gave in and slept.

I snapped this photo in the morning to remember that this is also her senior photo. It feels superficial to send only the grad announcements with the well-lit happy17-year-old by the tree. THIS photo says more about her senior year. It’s not a senior year like any other in her generation or mine. I know it’s not the tribulations of a class being sent to war, but it’s rightfully heart-crushing nonetheless.

They are grieving the loss of special traditions and celebrations, as well as the loss of a future they were told to envision since they were small.

And though I deeply believe in the character and grace and lasting strength that these times will bring to this class of young people, I want to always remember their sadness and sacrifice. Someday we’ll move on, and this senior ‘20 will have a significant heartbreak to remember alongside her new, beautiful future dreams. She’ll also have memories of her mom in shared uncertainty, in shared grief and fear, who makes space for her to rest before heading back to the world tomorrow.

As Mother’s Day 2020 approaches, I want to acknowledge all of us loving and comforting and bolstering our high-schoolers in ways we hadn’t expected. This photo also exemplifies the ways this time is asking us to parent, well beyond the patterns we employed only months ago. We are reaching deep into our own reserves as mothers to care and guide these high-school seniors, when we ourselves struggle with uncertainty and loss as well.

May we also grieve their lost season and rebound with the love and grace they deserve.

More to Read

Grad Gifts for Girls

I Didn’t Cry Until I Did and Then I Wept From the Bottomof My Soul

About Tina Kruse

Dr. Tina Kruse is a professor of education and psychology, an academic life coach, and a mom to three awesome teenagers in Minneapolis, Minnesota. This fall she's supporting students far and wide as they navigate online and hybrid classes through her Resilient Student Program. Find her at tinakruse.com where you can learn more about her ideas about supporting adolescent students through school and life.

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