Commencement – From Beginning to End

What’s it like to watch your child graduate from college?

graduation, commencement, boston university, children, daughter, family, life changes, midlife, empty nest

What I kept replaying in my head as we began graduation weekend was not the day my daughter was born, or the day of her Bat Mitzvah. Not the day she got her driver’s license, or the night she sang her first show choir solo. Not when she got her braces off, or her first bra. Not the first word, the first step, or the first time she walked to school without me holding her hand, ten steps ahead but glancing back, making sure I was there.

What I kept remembering was the day we flew across the country with her four years ago to move her into her dorm.

For those three days, we shopped, unpacked, shopped, unpacked… and she cried. A lot. At night she crawled into bed with me, all 5’8’’ of her, nearly speechless with fear. This was not like her, my darling daughter. She has always been filled with words, never happier than when others are listening to her. When she was small it was chatter. In high school, it was singing. But those three days, it was as if she had no way to express what she was feeling, so instead she burrowed in bed with me, clinging to me like a small child, which she still was in many ways – the little girl far more real to me than the young woman I could catch a glimpse of sometimes, for a few minutes – many times when she was on stage, or just a moment, caught off guard – there was a look in her eye.

The first night of the graduation weekend, dinner was just the four of us – before the festivities and grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins – my husband and me, our daughter and our son. Our little family. She is all grown up now. Beautiful, of course – whose daughter isn’t? But more than that – she’s an adult. She took us to one of her favorite Boston restaurants, asked the hostess for a different table (“I’m a hostess too,” she whispered to the girl), then suggested what to order (and we ordered it).

How time has flown. Her nails are blue, her eyes are smoky. Her legs are long, and so is her blonde hair. There is no trace, not even a wisp, of that girl – that child – who we left at the dorm four years ago, sobbing as we drove away. And finally, in that car, driving down Commonwealth Avenue, I collapsed, having kept my tears and sadness and fears under control for the whole three days we were in Boston, packing and shopping and relishing in the festivities. I cried and cried and cried so hard that I could barely breathe, yelling at my poor husband for goodness knows what reason. He just kept driving – what else was there to do?

My daughter, my love, my first, my only girl. My little girl who looked up to me – I was her whole world for a long time. I was her best friend for even longer – I still am, I think. She and I were wrapped around each other like ribbons on a birthday gift. She needed to go, to be on her own. She took me with her in her heart, I kept her with me in mine. But she needed to go, and I needed her to leave.

I will see her graduate tomorrow. She will wear her cap and gown and join thousands of others like her, ready or not, heading out into the world. I will hear the commencement speech, but I won’t really hear it. I will see other people, take pictures, have a nice dinner, but none of it will really matter. All that will matter is her, the woman she is and the woman she will continue to become. And I’ll remember the girl, the crying, scared girl, and I’ll see what can happen – what did happen – when you let your child go, let them fly and fall and fly again. I will be so very proud. And I will be glad she’s coming back across the country with us to begin the next thing- whatever it may be – closer to home. I want her nearby.

She is my girl.

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