Hot sun and cool shade - a perfect day for an outdoor graduation. It was spring, 2001, and our daughter, Jill - our youngest - was about to walk down that grassy aisle and out of our lives.
Rows of folding chairs were arranged on the lawn of Tandem Friends School, under a canopy of shifting leaves. The graduates, all thirty-one of them, had made their entrance and now sat on a stage in front of us.
For once, I could stare at my daughter uninterrupted. I wanted to memorize her. The way she sat up so straight, hair swirling in the breeze.
My thoughts wander back over the past twenty-one years that I've been a stay-at-home mother - teaching all three of them to read when they were toddlers, and once they were in school, coaxing and bribing and cheering them through homework, and those science projects involving Styrofoam balls and toothpicks. There were frantic trips to K-Mart to ferret out that day's holy grail: orange poster board, a marble-cover notebook, items they invariably waited until the night before to tell me about.
And now, the speechifying is done, the diplomas have been handed out.
I don't want to leave! I love this place: the field trips, volunteering on soup day, bringing corn and cheddar chowder in that swell insulated carrying case. (When will I ever use THAT again?)
I like sitting out here on the lawn, under the outstretched arms of oak trees. I look around at the families I've come to know over the years. The girls my daughter went snowboarding with at Wintergreen, the kids who sang and played in the rock bands at Tandem's Mother's Day festival, and a few kids who were in and out of trouble and came close to missing out on graduation altogether.
Adolescence is such a minefield - for all of us. But here they are. They made it. And they made it together, helping each other out in ways they'll likely never tell us about.
When will I see these people again? Chat with these mothers? Find out what's going on with their kids? This place where I chaperoned, set up the silent auctions, dropped off and picked up at the front door every day - in a few minutes, I won't belong here anymore.
Jill will start a new life at college, but, I don't think Virginia Tech is looking for room mothers or parent volunteers in the classroom. I doubt that I'll be getting a call from a professor some evening, asking me to send two dozen cupcakes to class the next day for their Halloween party or whatever. Suddenly, I feel very old.
Everyone's standing up and applauding as the fresh high-school graduates stride down the aisle. Except I'm not applauding - I'm rooting around in my pocketbook for a Kleenex. The tears slide down my cheeks, like this was a funeral instead of a commencement. I've got to pull myself together.
A friend steps over and takes me in her arms and I sob like part of me has died.
I think I'm molting, like a lobster or a snake, shedding my motherhood shell - this husk of myself that I leave behind on the lawn, and watch as it blows away.