To My Daughter On Her High School Graduation: Are You Ready? Am I Ready?

My girl. My first born. YOU are the first pancake. The test subject. The guinea pig. Mom and Dad’s fun, little expensive experiment.

I had a thought the other day; I know it’s crazy but I regret that I never showed you the Maldives. I guess I’m struggling with how we just couldn’t do/see/experience/teach/learn/be everything during the short 18 years I’ve been given before I send you into the world like a dandelion seed. Woosh.

Teenage girl graduating
A mom asks herself, “Did I do all I could as your mom?” (@shutterobsessed via Twenty20)

I felt time slipping like fine sand through my fingers, all leading up to this day. I had no concept of the finite nature of time until you were 18 months old and my dad died. After grandpa died, the important things became SO important and I became watchful, obsessively so, of time and milestones and beginnings and endings.

You already know this about me. The insane picture taking. I’m so sorry. Can’t help myself. And you poor thing, are first and therefore have borne the brunt of my fixations.

How I have dreamed, feared, prepared for, and worried over this day in your life and mine, a milestone of the highest order. Graduation. It really does go as fast as they say.

Are we ready? Are you? Am I?

What I Want My Daughter to Know at Her High School Graduation

This parenting gig has been so.much.harder than I expected. While trying to raise you the best I could, I found out that there is little I can control. I’m not omnipotent. Surprise! I couldn’t always protect you. I didn’t have all the answers. Sometimes I had no clue what the questions were.

I couldn’t craft the ideal environment. I couldn’t engineer a perfect childhood. And I was naive to think my job was to keep you on the straight and narrow. I had been picturing a foot bridge high above the dangers and discomforts of the world. And I was the rope railing you could grip. But my beautiful child…I was fooling myself.

The path of life is so vast, so wide and winding and I am neither a barrier nor a safety net. Heck, I’m just walking with you.

Did I tell you everything?  Did I show you everything?  Did I set the right example?  Did I set the wrong example so clearly you could learn to do the opposite? Did I prepare you for everything?

Did I listen to everything?

Damn near it seems. So many words. So many lectures from both of us. So many micro-moments. So many couch conversations at 12:15am. The time sitting on the front porch step at night when you told me how brutal 8th grade was, two years after the fact. The nights I spent awake worrying about what to do or not do. The few times you crawled into our bed to have a good cry. The many times we laughed until we cried.  The time at 1am you told me you only had 7 more things to say before I could go to bed.

Did I do well enough? Where were the blind spots? Did you get what you needed?  What did I forget? What will you remember?

Do you know the VALUE of daily sunscreen and never to mix bleach and ammonia? If you have to choose one of those-just do the sunscreen. Please. SPF all day all over. Or you will look like a leather football at my age. Also, to avoid the cancer. (Also-bleach plus ammonia equals KA-BOOM!)

Do you know the cruelest people often are just broken inside and sometimes you have to extend grace and not take their bitterness personally? Do you know how to run toward a friendship? Do you know when to walk away from one?

Do you know that EVERYTHING can be improved upon by a long walk in fresh air, a hot shower, a healthy meal and a long night of rest?  This combo works. I’ve tested it. Do you know that I believe there is no error, no wrong choice, no mix-up or mistake that you cannot come back from?

You can. And you will find yourself needing to.

Do you know that joy in life can come from hard work and can also come from dumb luck and a lot of good grows from a combination of the two?  And do you understand it’s important not to mix up the two?  Ever.

Sometimes you work so hard and good things happen and you can take the credit. And sometimes you stumble into good things and you cannot take credit. And you shouldn’t. Be grateful when things are good.  Be patient when things are bad.

Do you know that the very best days are ahead? They ARE. You haven’t even met some of your very favorite people yet. They are out there just wandering around the globe looking for you. GO FIND THEM.

You are going to become more and more of yourself. But you don’t have to be anything specific. Let it unfold. You don’t have to be perfect or gifted or athletic or talented or beautiful or interesting or any of the other expectations the world will place heavily upon your shoulders. You can just be you. You are quite filled with magic and value exactly as you are.

You don’t have to be interesting. But please, I beg you, be interested. Fight hard against being cynical. Be interested in people, places, things, learning, doing, creating, seeing.  If you hit a dead end-just change course. It will work out. There is a dizzying supply of small joys in the world. I hope you are able to experience as many as possible.

College is on the horizon. I cannot wait for you to JUMP RIGHT IN.  Maybe I could sleep on the bottom bunk?  (Just kidding. They won’t let me. I checked.) This is such a big change.  For our whole family.

Your brothers are going to miss you in ways they don’t even realize yet.  And while I feel sentimental about it at moments…high school has been- Well, I’m not going to say it’s been a complete sh&t show.  But let’s be honest-  It has not resembled a fun Netflix series.  It’s been a bit more Riverdale and less High School Musical than I would have liked for you. And I have watched with my hands covering my eyes at times.

You’ve endured tremendous loss. Unspeakable loss at such a young age. There were 8 student deaths during your four years of high school.  And 3 beautiful souls you grew up with at your tiny elementary are now gone. Gone far too soon, I can’t understand it so how could I even adequately help you through it?

I know you carry it around. Their funeral programs still taped to your bedroom wall. I’m crushed by it and yet proud that you carry those young ladies with you-never forgetting. It has made you aware of the struggles of others. It has made you more self-aware. It has made you both more compassionate and more discerning in your relationships. Your BS tolerance is impressively low. It has strengthened your resolve to put your mental health and that of others a top priority.

You ended up at a huge high school that likely was a poor match for your personality. I hope I do not regret for the remainder of my days the accidental purchase of our home that landed you in that school.  A huge system. An intense, competitive, achievement obsessed atmosphere.

It wasn’t all bad. There were football games and school dances and dance team and banquets and parties and a fun part time job and some cherished friends and some wonderful memories. There were also long, tough days and overwhelming schoolwork and being crazy busy and migraines.  I’m truly rooting for all these kids.  The world is better if we cheer on our friends and our enemies.

You lucked out with a few amazing teachers.  Many good teachers and only a couple real doozies.  You were in a rat race against so many in school. I wanted to pull the rip cord a dozen times and get you out of there and try something else. But you you persevered. You built up your reserves of grit. It will serve you well.

And now this chapter in your story is coming to a close. I once read that dogs can smell time. They can sense fragments of time based on the intensity level of scent in the air.  They know how long someone has been away and about how much longer it will be until they return.

And I think…how long has it been since that fresh baby smell, the just out of the bath toddler smell, the stench of stinky ballet shoes pulled from the pink quilted dance bag, the sweet smell of cherry popsicle on your cheek in the summers, the scent bomb of cheap perfume from Bath and BodyWorks, the fresh laundered (never tumbled dry) yoga pants, the mixed medley cloud of dozens of powder compacts from Target, then Ulta, then Sephora, the whiff of sugary syrup on a plate with one bite of waffle left in your room (ok-that was yesterday).

The time has been a literal lifetime and yet felt like a minute all at once. My irresistible baby grew into a girl and then morphed into a woman.

But perhaps I’ll always think of you like this. I still see this in you, my sweet girl. Child of God. Face full of joy. Light in your eyes.  Hands clasped with anticipation. With only hope and every delicious possibility ahead…

And now the wide and winding path is yours for the taking. Let me know when you make it to the Maldives.  I’ll be here and I can’t wait to hear all about it.

You Might Also Enjoy Reading: 

High School Graduation Songs That Will Make You Cry 

Grad Gifts for Your Teen’s Friends 

About Jen LarsenFortner

Jen Fortner lives in Minnesota with her husband, three children and the best dog on earth.  She has a MSW degree that never gets used other than to diagnose family members at holiday gatherings. She has a blog at where she tells stories about her family that they never read.

Read more posts by Jen

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