Two of the kids – Lily and Max – finished high school in early June. I know, I know. They call it “commencement.” It’s supposed to be a beginning, the start of what’s coming next. I like the idea of “graduation.” You move (up?) from one step to another. But, really, it felt so much like an ending. The end of waving kids off in the morning from the breakfast table, the end of dropping kids at the train station and picking them up again in the afternoon, the end of having supper ready for everybody and hearing holy hell when everybody is sick of chicken, the end of having gangs of boys hanging out in the basement in front of the TV. It was hard to think about beginnings, especially because nothing had begun yet. It will. I know it. But it hadn’t then and hasn’t yet.
We celebrated a lot of these ends, and it was joyful. I threw parties. Grandparents traveled to Boston from distant locales. There were presents. Everybody dressed up and looked spiffy. Mark, the kids, and I traversed Alaska’s Inside Passage, from Juneau to Ketchikan, as a way to note these endings. The five of us had – let it be publicly acknowledged – a lot of fun. Together. As a family. A dream come true.
For Sam, of course, things haven’t exactly ended, because he is spending another year boarding and will have his commencement/graduation/end next June. It’ll be different, in part because he’ll already have made the leap to “away.” And it’ll be different because he won’t be graduating near home, so I can’t make all my neighbors gather and fuss. But with luck we’ll all be together again – grandparents included – and it’ll be a big huge deal. That’s the way it seems to be turning out in this family. Reaching goals, coming to a place of achievement, marking rites of passage: we notice, and we eat cake.
So, now, it’s high summer – August – and I feel like a yo-yo. I keep pinging around. I helped Lily get set up on the Cape so she could work her usual summer job at the fruit’n’veg stand. I helped Sam get started at Berklee, where he’s been percussing away. I’ve helped Max and four others find an apartment in New York, where they’ll be volunteering with City Year for 11 months in public schools. Max hasn’t started yet, but he’s fully engaged in planning and will soon head with Mark in a U-Haul filled with furniture donated from generous friends.
And I’m in the middle of too many projects. I’m working on the syllabus for the course I’ll be teaching in the fall. I’ve done another round of research for a long piece, but I haven’t written it yet. I’ve emptied my office of books, but I still have a dozen, deep file cabinet drawers to sort through and vast stacks of papers to sort. Good news: underneath the horrible, mouldy carpet lies a hard wood floor. Such potential. Kind of a metaphor for everything else. Who knows what’s underneath? Maybe something that with a bit of polish will shine?
I feel stuck in the middle, meanwhile. After all the fanfare, not much has changed. I’m still buying groceries and emptying the dishwasher. The kids are keenly aware that new sorts of independence are just around the corner, but they haven’t quite reached the corner yet. A bit of push-me-pull-you has ensued. Normal, I know, in the Separation Derby, but not always comfortable.
You give everything you’ve got to these growing, shifting children, and if you are actually able to give what they need – not necessarily what they want or you expect – you get … to be left alone. This somehow seems a bad bargain at the moment, although older friends tell me it’s actually great. Right now, I think, “Who’d be crazy enough to sign on? Three times?” But that’s what the Bowl o’ Cherries is all about. You’ve got to savor the delicious fruit of raising a family, recognizing that you’re going to be left with a messy napkin filled with pits. The tasty fruit is gone. The seeds are to scatter. They’re going to mature into the loveliest trees. Probably in someone else’s yard. You’ve been so busy getting to this point that other parts of the garden have lain fallow or even gone to seed. What to do? Begin again.
Mired in the middle after so many endings, I am engaging in a tiny beginning. I’ve had my first two cello lessons and can now play both the “Dreidel” song and “Jingle Bells.” Pizzicato only. I told this to a neighbor’s son, a young man I have loved since he and my kids were all 5. He’s a wonderful musician with a wry sense of humor. Next, he assured me: Bach’s cello suites – preferably Number Two. I told him to check back with me in 2014.