The text arrived last Friday afternoon. “Mom, I only have 29 days of school left.”
Our daughter was in sixth grade when a piece I wrote (the first “Middle Passages” ) was published in a magazine. Our only child was going away for a week on a school “retreat” that took place at a summer camp in early September. The only way I could cope with my worry was to write it out of me. A week, you laugh? Well, now I do too, but until that point, she’d never been away for more than an overnight. In spite of rain and stay-up-all-night roommates, she managed through those five days and so did we.
That experience was like dabbling a proverbial toe in the lake compared to two years later, when, at her own request she spent a month away at summer camp. We dutifully drove up to the frozen New Hampshire woods in mid-winter, trudged around in the snow with a caretaker, declared the place suitable and dropped her off at the end of July. I cried when we pulled out. She tells me that she almost did, but then squared her shoulders and went to meet her bunkmates. That went so well, she returned for two more summers. Since then there have been school trips to Montreal, New York and Philadelphia, and extended visits with her cousins during vacations.
But add it all up, and over the last almost 18 years, she’s been apart from us for less than four months. And now, less than 30 school days stand between us and her high school graduation. At the end of the summer, we’ll pack up her belongings and deliver her to a dorm room two hours and an entire lifetime away. Lately, denial is my middle name.
My sister’s middle child is graduating this year too. She has long since begun writing lists and organizing for the joint bash she will be hosting for her son and his friend. Every time she brings it up, a pit in my stomach opens and I duck my head into the sand—which is where I kept it firmly ensconced as our daughter performed in her last “All School Band Day,” served her final Mass at church; and as she prepares for an end of a twelve year dance career recital. Guests traveling from out of state confirmed flight reservations for the graduation ceremony last week, we completed applications for local scholarships and still, I kept my eyes closed to the future.
But when she sent the text above, reality appeared in block letters across my phone screen. As much as I’d like to grab time like an errant bed sheet and yank it back, I can’t. At the end of May, the last day of school will come. No matter how I feel about it, graduation will follow the first week of June.
So, Saturday, I sat down and wrote out a list of family members she’s asked us to invite to a small party, sketched out a menu, and a what-to-do-if-it-rains plan. Yup, we'll be commemorating a major life event here.
How much time do you think has to pass before I feel like celebrating?