When my son graduates from high school this June, I will hand him his diploma at graduation because I am a faculty member at his school. There is also a beautiful tradition that happens on the first Friday of school in September, while the entire school community is our courtyard. The seniors march in, holding the hand of a nursery school student. The seniors look proud and strong, the younger students are shy and smiling.
There are senior dinners and awards events. There are the morning assemblies where the senior class leaders show senior baby pictures with cute descriptions. As a teacher in the high school, I’ve gotten to see all of these assemblies and thought of the moment when my senior’s baby photo would be up there!
I teach at my son’s school
Doing the teaching job I love is even more enjoyable because I go with my son.
I know about the assignments due in his classes. His teachers are my colleagues and friends; I have taught him in class. And most of the time, I actually think he likes me there.
I wouldn’t change going to school with him for anything even though there are those mornings where he barely speaks to me, tired and stressed. Then, there are those mornings where he confidently gets in the driver’s seat with me as his passenger and sets up his music so he doesn’t have to touch his phone as we drive. It was only, until recently, as he became a more skilled driver, that I held my breath and patiently held my tongue as he drove.
I witness the small moments during the school day. While he’s hanging out with friends in the courtyard. I occasionally look down at him from a window in the library and observe, invisible to him, my baby, the youngest of my three- almost 6 feet tall with an ever present smile, backpack slung on one shoulder the other shoulder next to a friend
I don’t always say hi when I pass him in the hallway, nor do I remind him of that upcoming test he has that I heard about from a colleague. When I do pass by, one of his buddies usually jostles him and says, “Hey man, say hi to your mom!” He smiles and looks up to say hello.
There are days when he forgets his soccer gear for practice. I get a text. “Mom, please can you run home and get it for me.” Do I? Is this enabling or scaffolding? I don’t know what’s right, but for me, the outcome is always the same. I run home and get it. I do this because I can and I know it won’t always be this way. Because he is my youngest, I have the wisdom of experience. I won’t always be there to help him.
Because of my school schedule, I’m able to be there for his soccer games. I know his stance as he protects the goal, hands slightly behind him as a group of large boys charge at him. My stomach in knots, I almost can’t bear to look-it all rides on him. Once I asked him, “How do you handle the pressure of being a goalie?” “Mom, he said, some go in and some don’t, I just have to get back in there. I admire his resilience and his attitude.
Covid changed everything
In March, everything changed. Things slowly unraveled. Life changed irrevocably.
I’m an optimistic person. I said to myself, “This will get under control. By fall things will be back to normal and everyone will go back to school. I really thought that my youngest would have a normal senior year. My oldest had already missed all of the events and excitement of senior spring and graduation, surely I wouldn’t have to go through that again. I was thinking about me and my loss.
Summer came, and I was still hopeful. As July turned to August, it became apparent that school would not be the same this year. We weren’t sure that we would open and, if we did, in what way would teachers and students return to the school I call a second home?
We opened in a hybrid way, with two high school grades attending at a time. Due to health restrictions, all gatherings and events were canceled. My son and I returned and school felt different. We were back: masked and socially distant.
And I felt sad. I assumed my perch in the library looking out at the courtyard and saw loss. This wasn’t the senior year I was picturing. No assemblies with baby pictures, no parade with little kids. Another senior year for me-gone.
My son is a senior and I am focusing on him
Then something happened. I tried to focus less on me; this isn’t my senior year; it’s his. I looked to my kid instead. He is happy to see his friends when he can. He takes all safety precautions and is ok. He is resilient and adapting. It is my loss to cope with because I had such a strong vision of what our senior year together would look like. I’m sure he did also, but he is drawing on his resilience and positive attitude. He is strong and can do this; I am strong and can do this.
There is a video of the Senior Parade. For a few days I avoided watching. When I finally did, there was my son, not holding the hand of a child, but holding a sign with his name on it, with of course, the ever present smile. And somehow, I will still hand him his diploma.
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