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Lessons from my grad

Photo: Shilad Sen/Flickr


In just a few weeks my daughter will get all dressed up and walk down the aisle.

At 18, it will not be strewn with rose petals and lead to a minister. No, instead, this aisle will be trussed up in blue and green streamers and lead to her diploma-proffering high school principal.

I ask you, am I the only one who feels like a kid's diploma should bear their parents' names too? I mean, Maddy's dad and I have learned as much during her 12 years of school as she has – just different lessons. Like how to hold your heart together as the storm of wailing on her first day of Kindergarten blows by; how to breathe deeply and keep your mouth shut when your 6th grader comes home with blue hair; and how to (almost) successfully negotiate a curfew with a 17-year-old lawyer.

There have been other lessons:


Play is important

I've always been more of a cook and clean kind of mom, not a player, not a wrestler. One day when our daughter was in elementary school, she finally called me on it: "Mom, why you don't like to have fun?"

She had me. What could I say? So we joined Girls Scouts and the next thing I knew we were headed to mother-daughter camp on a freezing wet winter day. We were assigned to a lean-to in which we found a 3-inch spider lurking under the bed. Maddy was thrilled.

I made pinecone gnomes like all the other moms. But when it came time to bed down, I wimped out. When Maddy was asleep I made a beeline to my warm, spider-less minivan and snuck back into the hut early the next morning.

Lesson learned: Saying yes to play is important, how you play isn't.


They are stronger than we think

So much about my daughter reaching this milestone amazes me. But by far the heftiest is that she is graduating with high marks despite having a learning disability. She's dyslexic. But the truth is her disability pretty much always took a backseat to her brother's more attention-getting diagnosis of autism.

As we wrestled with the unknowns of "the spectrum," Maddy turned to her friends and teachers to read draft after draft of every paper she wrote. She beat the odds by creating community.

Perhaps because of this experience, she was the first to truly believe in her brother as a fully capable person.

"He can do a lot more than you think," I remember her telling me when I was afraid to let my son take the city bus at age 13. She was right. My over-protection was disabling my son. Watching him get off the bus in one piece, I remember thinking "Who's the mother here?"

Lesson learned: Our kids can achieve great things against great things, sometimes when the parent is not paying attention.


Our kids can help us evolve

I have no doubt Maddy will arrive at her diploma with far more self-possession than I did 30 years ago. Watching her morph over the years from a blue-bobbed tomboy into full-grown woman was both fun and illuminating for a mom who has, frankly, cared for her own appearance about as much as she's cared for cleaning the cat box.

I had always avoided primping and pampering on the grounds of my staunch feminist values. One day my daughter said to me, "You can be feminine and still be a feminist mom. I dress up for me!"

Lesson learned: Our kids have plenty to teach us.


They are born to leave

As her graduation day approaches, my daughter is a force to be reckoned with. I worry that the impatience or annoyance she feels right now towards us will be what she takes with her to college and the world beyond. And I don't like this phase much.

But then I realize that these are the very things that will nudge her from our nest – as it should be.

Lesson learned: We grow them so they can take off - and them going means we did a good job.

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