I recently sat through commencement exercises for my oldest daughter. I felt a whirlwind of convoluted feelings as I watched her march across the stage in high heels to grasp her diploma. I was certainly proud, but also sadly nostalgic as I caught fleeting glimpses of the toddler who once rode my hip and pulled my hair.
Speeches are an inevitable part of any graduation ceremony, and this one had its fair share. As my shining child approached the podium to give her speech as valedictorian (Yes, I am taking this opportunity to brag), I glanced around the room at all my fellow moms, and something occurred to me.
Sure graduation is all about the kids and their accomplishments, but the mothers sitting in the audience clutching tissues and trying to hold it together have accomplished something monumental, too.
We won’t get to walk across any stages or receive any official paper acknowledgement of our accomplishment. There won’t be recognition of our hard work, because like moms throughout history, we don’t do it for the accolades.
But since we don’t get our own ceremony, I’ve written my own mom graduation speech. Because if your kid is crossing a stage in a cap and gown, you have both accomplished something great. Kudos, Moms, on a job well done.
A Mom's Graduation Speech
Welcome, friends, family, teachers, and staff. We have finally made it. It is graduation day. Today is the culmination of years of hard work. For our graduates, that hard work occurred mostly as research papers, algebra problems, and multiple choice history tests. But for most of the moms in this room, the work looked quite different.
We didn’t have to study for tests or obsess over MLA citation format. There were no formal evaluations, and it was left mostly to ourselves to obsess over our performance.
For us, the work began long before these distinguished scholars were even born. When we suffered through horrible bouts of morning sickness, obsessed about prenatal nutrition, and worried about brain development. When we pored over books about pregnancy and marveled at our growing bellies, gasping at the first butterfly flutters of movement.
If you are a birth mother, your body was wrenched and your soul twisted by childbirth. With a gush of blood and pain and unearthly love, these people entered the world, wet and wide-eyed. And we lost ourselves in those eyes and the exhaustion of hard work and little sleep. There were so many diapers and so many tears (both theirs and ours... the tears, not the diapers).
Our work took the form of judgmental stares during grocery store tantrums. We dealt with marathon nursing sessions, night terrors, croup and stomach viruses.
There were broken windows, broken bones, and broken hearts. We have hovered nearby as they learned to walk, to ride a bicycle, to fall in love.
This parenting thing was much more difficult than we expected, but also much more rewarding. While we are mostly happy that the days of dirty diapers, spelling lists, and broken curfews are over, we would trade almost anything to go back, just for a short visit, to experience the grounding weight of our babies in our arms, the sticky-faced toddler grins, even the endless questions of “Why?”
While this day is a huge and exciting beginning for our children, it is a monumental ending for us as moms. As our young people move off to college, work, or service, we are likely to find ourselves floundering, wondering what to do when there are no lunches to pack or carpools to drive.
Our kids don’t realize it yet, but our relationship is teetering on the verge of change. No longer will our children be a constant presence, even if usually behind a closed bedroom door. After they’ve drifted off to places of employment and higher education, they will become more like visitors at our dining room tables. Although, I hope they still barge through the front door without knocking, kick off their shoes in the middle of the room, and make their way to the fridge to gulp milk straight from the carton, their presence will almost startle us, shaking us out of what will inevitably become our new normal.
Because daily, since we heard that first tiny heartbeat, our lives have been knitted together forming a beautiful, if somewhat dysfunctional tapestry. Each thread woven and knotted to form the fabric of our lives as a family. It is no wonder that graduation makes mothers feel as if we are beginning to unravel.
We are standing on the cusp of a life where our presence is no longer required. We get to stand by and watch them fly, whether just across town or across the country. They are still leaving us, just as they have been leaving us in the tiniest of ways every day. Those first steps they took, wobbling into our open arms, were actually the first steps away from us. Every day they have needed us a little less.
And while this is a sad day for us moms in many ways, this is how it is meant to be. This is what we’ve been working so hard to accomplish. When mothers do their jobs well, they become almost obsolete.
So, for the graduates sitting out there getting ready to turn your tassels, be patient with us. I know its hard, but don’t meet our tears with your usual sarcastic eye roll. This is one of the hardest things we’ve ever had to do, and some of us suffered through a 36-hour childbirth to get you here.
As you turn your tassels, we’ll be cutting our apron strings. And although you’re more than ready to meet the world head on, anxious to start this next exciting chapter in your lives, we are already missing every little version of you we’ve loved through the years. The wheel keeps turning. Even when we missed our babies, we never loved the toddlers or the children or the teenagers that replaced them any less. In fact, love grows more fierce and fiery with every turning of the page.
So, to the moms out there struggling just as hard as I am, I think I know how to survive this. We have to keep looking to the future, embracing change just like we have all along. To survive this momentous milestone, we must look forward to the future through the exciting lens of their life, the one ready to burst forth in full bloom, not backwards through the lens of ours.
They have become amazing young humans, and the potential they hold is no less than it was when we heard them take that first crying breath. I am excited to see how this story progresses. I’m ready to read the sequel to what has been the most divine and exhilarating story I have ever witnessed.
Moms, we’ve arrived. And yet we really haven’t. The parenting finish line is a myth. We are mothers. That doesn’t end at graduation. Every exit is an entrance to somewhere else. And this tiny goodbye, just like all the others we’ve experienced from birth to walking to driver's licenses, may not be a goodbye at all. Maybe it is just time to turn the page and see what’s next.
But it's still okay if you want to get lost in a bottle of wine and a box of baby pictures. That is definitely my plan for later tonight.
And to my graduating daughter: Congratulations, Sweetheart. You have always amazed me, and you continue still. I love you to the moon and back.
I always will.