graduation motherhood

Staring Down the Cap and Gown

10:07 AMHeather

I see you.

I see you hanging there.

Well, you're kinda hard to miss, all bright red and such, hanging there in my craft room closet. Just waiting to be worn.


I actually hung you there as sort of an exercise in desensitization. After my son just casually threw you, in your package, on my chair. Like no big, Mom. I'm all grown up. And this graduation thing is happening and it's all casual and not at all a major thing in life.

So after a brief little, "What? WHAT?" posting on my Facebook group for moms of seniors, I hung you up -- you cap and gown -- so that I could adjust a bit to the sight of you. 

I thought I should become familiar with you, as I pass you by many times each day. Then, maybe I might quit feeling slightly freaked out by you.

I don't know what it is about you. But I think the first thing might be that you are the next generation of another cap and gown that it seems I just wore. Like yesterday. Because I think I was JUST 18-years-old myself? Despite what my gray roots might be telling me.

You, cap and gown, are the manifestation of the old cliche of how time flies. I'm drowning in these cliches, searching unsuccessfully for a better way to express this milestone. But I just keep circling back to the same tired expressions.

The days are long but the years are short.

Don't blink.

They grow up so fast.

Enjoy every minute of it.

And so on and so forth.

The problem is that these cliches are just so very true. I think we just tend to take them lightly until they hold the full weight of being fulfilled through our own children.

As I'm staring you down, cap and gown, you taunt me with all these sayings. You mock me and my ridiculously tender and fragile heart that is oh-so-full of the emotions of pride and nostalgia and gratitude and wonder. The conflicting sweet feelings of excitement about new things.

Mixed with the sad feelings of the changes to come. When my son lives somewhere else and our house feels a bit emptier. I'm quite a sentimental person, so I feel all the feelings when I think back on the tiny baby he just was. Or ponder the adorable little boy who once declared he was going to marry me when he grew up, while he stood at the top of the stairs after I'd sent his toddler self to brush his teeth. 

On top of these flooding memories is a little hint of the fear of the unknown ahead of us, on this never-traveled road.

These are the ways that you mock me, cap and gown. You evoke all the feelings that are trying to boss me around -- all the emotions that are vying to burden me with the weight they bring.

Listen, here. I'm on to you. I get you. I know what you're up to, which is why I hung you up.

So that I could stare you down and begin some important work that my pastor recently taught during a sermon about anxiety.

I'm going to stop listening to myself and instead, start talking to myself. I'm going to stare you down and gain the upper hand by preaching some truth to my heart about all that you represent. Not just the sad and sorry and anxious stuff that you are trying to throw at me.

But the awesome truth of what you mean, cap and gown.  I'm going to dig my heels in here, during this transition in life, and I'm going to learn to raise my voice more loudly and clearly than the whispers of defeating emotions.

You, cap and gown, mean that he's grown academically and is ready for the next challenge.

You mean that though the struggle was real, my kid learned to read. He learned how to take tests well. He learned how to make great grades and choose his own coursework to optimize his success and manage his stress. He learned that it's okay to not keep up with the Joneses when it comes to the crazy competition in our culture. He learned to pave his own way. He learned that this not only got him into his dream school, but allows him to go in without burnout and with an enthusiasm to keep learning and striving.

Oh, yeah. And he learned to slay that ACT to the point of earning himself a pretty sweet scholarship.

You, cap and gown, also mean that he has learned a lot about relationships and other character lessons.

He learned how to get along with others and how to manage it when people were unkind. He learned how to accept disappointment when he didn't make the team. He learned how to hold his head high, when that list was posted on the middle school front door, and to not be defeated by the no. He learned to persevere and look elsewhere for new opportunities. He learned that in so doing, he found the sweetest and most unexpected place of belonging. 

You, cap and gown, mean that he learned a lot about goals and working hard.

He learned how to think about the future and consider what needs to be done today to get there. He learned about balancing work and play and church and friends and family. He learned about being a good student, a great employee, a contributing member of a team, and someone who dreams bigger than today and has faith in a big God who holds his future.

You, bright red cap and gown, hang there on that hanger and you try to tell me to stop. You want to bully me into just standing still in sadness and sentimentality and looking backwards. You want me to get stuck here, with an Eeyore "Woe is me!"

But, I'm on to you. So listen up closely. Here's what I've got to tell you.

When I look at you, I'm not going to see a red stop light. You won't take me down. You won't steal my joy in this moment. You won't get the best of me and you won't stall me out.

When I look at you, I'm going to see the bright red cloth that a bullfighter holds up. As you wave around, with your hard-to-miss color, what you are really signaling is for my son to plant his feet and then charge into the future. 

And charge into the future, we shall. All of us. I will turn my perspective from looking back through the lens of my own experience to looking forward through the lens of my son's experience.

The truth that I'm telling myself as I am tempted to puddle completely is that all these years and all these lessons and all these victories and defeats and memories are all actually just a precursor to the totally awesome things to come.

And he needs to know that the best is yet to come. Our kids always need their mama. And right now, I get to keep being the parent who guides him. 

What my son needs from me is to keep being his cheerleader and to keep being president of his fan club. And I need to keep pressing him forward. He needs me to say, "Hey! This was all fun and great and wonderful. And you've totally got what it takes to charge forward."

He needs me to smile and hug and nod and keep instilling a confidence in him about the future ahead. He needs me to remind him that all of what has happened in his life thus far -- it has all played a role in preparing him for the other side of that graduation ceremony. 

He needs me to not stop. He needs me to not stall out his momentum. He needs to me to not weigh him down in the past but to push him forward into the next chapter.

So, listen, cap and gown. You just keep hanging there. Until you're worn for reals in just a matter of days.

I'll keep looking at you, cap and gown. I see your attempts to unwind me. But now I have a game plan.

I'll not stuff my emotions, but I won't let them be the boss of me. I won't just listen to the feelings that lead to anxiety. But, I will instead choose to preach truth to myself. I will tell myself to grieve, if I must grieve a bit, but only if I grieve forward. 

Because for all that is coming to a close, there is a lifetime of unimaginable potential ahead! 

I'm charging for you, red cap and gown. I'll be like a bull. I'll keep staring you down, and you be forewarned. 

I'm coming at you as a woman who is learning to smile at the days ahead (Proverbs 31:25). Because my confidence is in the God who has ordained each season and holds us all so firmly in his righteous right hand.

All the way through pomp and circumstance. And whatever comes next.

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