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Sunday, January 20, 2013

Rites of Passage

My oldest daughter, Tara, graduates from high school in about a month. Life passages like this are tough on parents. I was fighting back tears when each of the kids "graduated" from fifth grade, so I've always known high school would be tough.

As I was waiting for the girls after the choir/band thing at school recently, it occurred to me that this would be the last time I would come to see Tara in a high school production, and the tears began to sting my eyes. As it turned out, it wouldn't be the last thing, so the tears were for naught!

They aren't really happy tears, and they aren't really sad tears ... they're a combination of joy and hope ... and a little fear. It's like when you drop them off for Kindergarten and then you cry all the way to work for a week. You can't be there to protect them. You can't be there to guide them. You know they're going to get their feelings hurt at times. You know they are going to be afraid at times. You know they're going to wish you were there at times ... and you can't be. But, you also know they need to be at school, not only for the academics, but for the social and coping skills they will never develop if Mom is always hovering over them.

Knowing this, however, doesn't make it any easier. It's gut-wrenching. Even though you know you're not, you feel like you're abandoning them. They are so excited they can't see the turmoil and fear percolating inside you. After a kiss and a hug, they happily run off, leaving you standing there with your heart bleeding ... wishing you had just one more day, one more week, one more year to keep them carefree and innocent.

As Tara stands on the doorstep of adulthood, the choices she makes will have life-long consequences. I can guide her steps, and I can offer advice, but the decisions ultimately belong to her. I trust her. She's a good girl, but deep inside, she's still that little baby I gave birth to eighteen years ago ... the one I rocked to sleep and tried to coax meat baby food down by hiding it under applesauce (that didn't work ... she wouldn't even eat applesauce for a while after that!) ... and the desire to keep her close and safe and protected is as strong now as it was the first time I held her.

When I think of Tara, the first thing that comes to mind is when she was about four years old. She and Jana were playing something (I can't remember what), but since Jana is two years younger, she had a hard time following the rules Tara imposed ... rules Tara made up as she went, so there wasn't necessarily a strict set of rules for poor little Jannie to follow! Fed up with Jana's insubordination, Tara put her hands on her hips and chastised her ... "I've told you three times already. Are you blind?!"

I remember the time she asked if a friend could sleep over. I told her I'd call so-and-so's mom and see if she could spend the night. Tara got a strange look on her face and asked "Who's her mom gonna sleep with ... me or you?"

I remember Tara in the backyard at our old house, sitting in the grass near the fence. The neighbors dog, Rotten, cuddled up on the other side, as close as she could get to Tara. Tara would sit it out there with Rotten for hours, reading to the dog as she petted her through the fence.

I remember standing at the back door, watching Tara swing ... finally able to swing all by herself ... singing whatever came to mind, always at the top of her lungs. I remember her jumping rope on the sidewalk, riding her big wheel, blowing bubbles.

As emotional as I get with the little accomplishments and rites of passage that the kids have gone through, I know Tara's high school graduation will be the hardest ... so far. Each milestone they pass ... their first birthday, going to pre-school, going to Kindergarten, middle school, etc., is bittersweet. I loved the kids being babies. I loved being able to eat Little Debbie cakes while holding them and they had no idea!!

On their first birthday, you're so happy that they're becoming more independent, that they can play with you, and entertain themselves for a short time ... but a part of you aches, knowing that little baby who wanted nothing more than to lay peacefully in your arms is gone forever. I loved my kids at every age and stage of development, but I mourned the years that were gone ... the ones I'd never have again.

As I watch Tara graduate, I will be filled with pride, and joy, and happiness. And I'll be filled with that same bittersweet ache that my baby is that much closer to being grown and gone. I know that's what a parent is supposed to do. You're supposed to raise them to be able to take care of themselves and not need you anymore. I know kids always need their parents, but it's a different kind of need. My dad died 22 years ago, and my moms been gone for 13 years ... I haven't had the luxury of parents for so long I can hardly remember having them. I miss them ... and I need them.

I'm sure Tara considers herself quite capable ... I know I did when I was her age ... but for right now, she does still need me. This past February she wanted to make cupcakes for her boyfriend for Valentines Day. She called me in a panic. "Mom, I need to put the cupcakes in the oven. How long do I leave them in?"

Maybe I should know off the top of my head, but I didn't. "I don't know, honey, look on the box."

"I can't!!" Her voice was literally dripping with hysteria.

She'd obviously thrown the box away, but I had a solution ... Mom to the rescue! "Get the box out of the trash and see what it says."

"Mom," she replied (and I could actually hear her rolling her eyes), "I couldn't find any cupcake mix, so I had to buy cake mix!"

Okay ... I see the problem. It's (as we like to say in the computer field) ... "Insufficient User Resource"!!

Perhaps I shouldn't worry so much about the kids growing up and not needing me!!

I know I will cry throughout the entire commencement ceremony. All I have to do is think or even talk about it and I get choked up. As hard as it will be for me to watch the kids graduate, it will be nothing compared to when they get married! I will have to be sedated for that! I'll sit in the front row at the church, looking stunning in my new Mother-of-the-Bride dress ... semi-comatose and drooling.

Children are a part of their parents, literally and figuratively. I know watching them walk out the door for the "last" time will be sheer agony ... akin to losing a limb. The loss might be something you grow accustomed to, but you're always aware that something (someone) is missing.

If anyone ever invents a time machine, life on Earth will cease to exist; parents will never let their kids grow up to procreate. I wouldn't ... Dave would stay baby Davy ... a fat, happy, cuddly baby, always ready to play. Jannie would be perpetually four, making me plastic food and coffee in her Little Tikes kitchen while I babysit her dolls. And Tara would always be eight ... spending her days swinging, singing, having tea parties with her cat, and reading to the neighbors' dog.

When the kids were little, they had no idea how I was crumbling inside under the weight of my "burden", or how overwhelmed I was at raising three young children all alone. All they knew were picnics and playgrounds. They knew popsicles and a sprinkler on a hot summer day. They knew bike rides and walks. They knew tickle-fights and hugs and kisses. They knew colorful band-aids on their boo-boo's, a bedtime story, and getting rocked to sleep. They didn't know we were poor ... they felt safe and loved ... and they were happy. That's all kids really need ... time and love. And cookies.

Actually, everyone needs cookies!

Tara came to my room last night to talk to me. She lay on my bed, wearing a t-shirt and capris, and looking every inch a high school kid. She'll be nineteen at the end of summer ... with twenty just around the corner ... and was giggling about how close she is to not being a teenager anymore.

"I'll be a woman," she said, laughing and flipping her hair.

"Actually, you're a woman, now," I told her, with a lump in my throat. "Do you feel like a woman?" I asked.

"No," she said, still giggling, smiling that beautiful smile of hers.

"Good," I thought as I took her in my arms and hugged her.

I am so proud of Tara. She's sweet and beautiful and honest and dependable and trustworthy. And there's something indefinably special about her. She reminds me of the movie "Shallow Hal" after the spell was cast on him ... she truly does see people for who they are on the inside, not what they look like on the outside. She's a remarkable girl (woman) and I'm eternally grateful God gave her to me.

She's not only my daughter, she's my friend. I love the "woman" Tara has become ... but I will always miss the little girl she used to be.

Tara may be all grown up now ... but she still needs love.

And cookies ... Tara still needs cookies :)

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