On Sunday, I handed out programs at the commencement of the Class of 2017 at my sons’ high school. Clif doesn’t graduate until next year, but the junior parents typically help out with the event.
It was a clever ploy on my part to sign up for program distribution duty, because it gave me the chance to stand at the edge of the big tent on Edgehill Avenue and to welcome 91 families as they arrived for a day that was either a peak moment, a nice little ceremony, or an excuse to wear a cute dress and towering platforms. (How do the legs of these young women not snap off? What sinew and tendon are at work as they make their way?)
The shepherding of venerable family members may be one of the tenderest parts of a graduation day. By golf cart, cane, and careful steps, they assembled to mark the moment. See? That’s him. He’s got his mortarboard on.
Now, you know how sentimental I am about this school—it is alma mater to Hubbo and me, the place where we met. My brothers and sister are alums. Hubbo’s mom, too. It is a layer cake of resonant emotion, University School. Thirty-six years after I graduated, I see the place so differently from the way I did back when I was a lank-haired student. (The hair has never stopped being lank.) Sunday added yet another layer of memory to my experience there.
Many moms that I know and admire had children in the long line of begowned graduates. For several moms, this graduation was their final event at this school, the last child to graduate, the end of the long stretch from preschool through high school.
See? It’s commencement for the moms, too: now what? A child after high school is a very different project from a child in high school. For many moms, with work life a steady flow, this moment marks a shift in intensity. For other moms, who have been out of the workforce for a long time, it can be a more dramatic alteration.
Now what? The big push is over. Much has been accomplished. The gown and the mortarboard have landed on the child’s body on the correct date at the correct time. Grandma is here. The child took both the SAT and the ACT. He can swim across a pool without sinking.
I keep thinking about Max Daniels’s latest piece for MDK, “Productivity: The Body Is Not a Factory.”
Max writes about a time when she was unemployed and not “productive.” Totally fascinating. And I’m struck by the comments from readers of her piece. The unrelenting demands of parenthood are a special form of productivity—sometimes it feels like just the opposite, even as the calendar pages slip away and the child is suddenly taller than you.
“I have no science to offer here. Just a powerful before-and-after experience of how it felt when I stopped driving myself, and how good it felt to return to work—not as a relief from all that louche non-productiveness, but because I was ready to produce something again.”
As I watched the line of students pass by, some with gowns steamed and pressed to silky polyester perfection, others as wrinkled as the moment they came out of the bag, I felt overwhelming pride for these women—and men, yes of course the dads, but I’m thinking about women right now. There are so many ways to be a parent: obsessive, slack, lenient, strict. But the love in that big tent was palpable, and as I think of these women on their way to a new chapter in their lives, I know they will be as inventive, improvisational, and inspiring as they have been for so many years.
PS Graduation shoutout! One of the speakers at graduation was Justin Fitzpatrick, son of Cindy Fitzpatrick, amazing knitter who is the proprietor of Conversational Threads Fiber Arts Studio in Emmaus, PA. Justin is an extraordinary math teacher, and he was just awarded the Bovender Family Faculty Chair, USN’s highest faculty honor. I felt a mom’s pride to see Justin address the audience of 2,000 with his typical grace and humility. You done good, Cindy!
PSS I said I’d post After photos of the Leif Cowl. Here you go.
It’s soft, drapey, and flat. I need to make another one.