Judi Crenshaw’s youngest just graduated from high school, and it’s given her a chance to reflect on the good times and the bad, and what we can take from a rite of passage (that often isn’t that pleasant to witness).
Photo by: vpickering
As far as graduations go (high school and college), we’re at five down and one to go. Since you don’t always hear the real versions of these things, let me tell you these milestone events are not all a barrel of fun. Age-spanning relatives + interminably long ceremonial activities + comparing your family to everyone else’s family + surly young peoples + spending extra money + emotions + SMILE! = not a Hallmark experience. Nightmares still persist from our first child’s college graduation when student EMS’ers scooped up heat stroke victims as they dropped on the picturesque quad, giving the ‘high noon’ ceremony its own particular pomp and circumstance.
Graduations bring out the fist-pumping parents woo-hoo’ing their kids’ achievements. Big grins, ribboned bouquets in hand. I bring nothing but smuggled in water bottles and think “Geeeez, we’re exhausted with this place,” and “Thank god you maneuvered around that blur of 8th through 10th grade.”
Turns out kids are 360-degree humans who start to have the problems humans have before you even know it is possible.
Don’t get me wrong, both my more recent grads are shiny gems with bright futures! There are accomplishments that seem practically impossible now, given the unyielding schedule and super charged expectations for high schoolers (talk to me later about some of that craziness). It’s just that each had semesters, sometimes whole years, marked with significant challenges. Some were educational issues to tackle, but others were serious, unexpected curve balls. Turns out kids are 360-degree humans who start to have the problems humans have before you even know it is possible. Regardless of school, they interact with a culture filled (more than you want to know) with drugs, racism, bullying, and hardcore dating violence. Sudden health crises knock school problems into a whole different context.
So when my children walk across the graduation stage, I think about the struggles. I think about how we barely knew each other before x happened, or how y was tough to talk about but cropped up in a positive way a few years later. I think about what caused that blur between 8th and 10th grade and wonder how it will rear its head again?
They accomplished plenty, and I am so very proud, but it is in the uncertainty, pain, and disappointment when most of the real conversations happen. I’ve learned to resist that fierce parental inclination to solve all of the things. It’s been infinitely more important to get to know my kids in shaky moments and let them know me. Distractions scatter, and there’s an opportunity to hear your child’s real feelings and honest questions. Give them a glimpse of your true heart, not the brave and authoritative one; likely you are uncertain and hurting too.
My son got real, real tired of hearing about girls’ periods and sex way before he would listen. Too bad. Sit and squirm, my friend.
Forcing the conversation is okay too. My son got real, real tired of hearing about girls’ periods and sex way before he would listen. Too bad. Sit and squirm, my friend. There’s enough objectification of girls by middle school to require hashing out an understanding of what’s around them. Same goes for every single opportunity to talk about inequality and injustice. Do not shield them–they probably see school-versions of this crap you are not aware of. Bring it up, and often, even if the words don’t flow so smoothly.
As much as I recommend this, I’m not nearly there with a mature, reciprocal relationship with all three young adult offspring. Opportune moments slip away and doors are slammed, just like in every other house. This recent high school grad gem is more like the kind tossed into those at-home rock tumblers that make a huge racket, tumbling and tumbling until ears are plugged and the entire contraption is relegated to the garage. Sometimes better to let the entire business unfold while no one is paying any attention. A few months later when the dog sniffs it out, “Wow! Gem-like qualities, and we don’t even realize how that happened!”
Meanwhile, one more graduation to go. I might even raise a fist in solidarity with all the other parents, full of happiness and overwhelmed at how quickly it flew by. Mostly I’ll be grateful that some really hard stuff helped us know one another–deep and true. And I know we’ll continue to tumble, together.