Last week around this time, I was on stage under bright football-stadium lights at our high school graduation. I’m amazed every year that despite this day being one of the longest days of the year for teachers, I’m always incredibly charged. It must be the excitement and energy that walks in with every eager mom’s dressy heels and every male student in his dad’s suit pants. I even drive away after the ceremony bursting with the powerful sense that I couldn’t be part of anything more rewarding.
The biggest advantage with being on stage this year was my vantage point. I got to see every student line up near the principal, adjust her cap a bit, try to nudge away that flutter in her stomach, have her name called, and then…walk. I swear to God that there is a moment, like a mirage, on each of those students’ faces where he looks like the man he will probably be in ten years, the man who will one day start a family and have a career. The same student who was in my club as a sophomore, in my class as a junior and then again as a senior, is now—in the matter of 1 day and a minute—an adult.
This idea moves me every year as the student evolves into a peer of sorts, as a reminder of where I was, and now more than ever, a glimpse into the day when I will adjust Layla and Zade’s graduation robe with shaky hands and a trembling chin as I say to them, “I remember your first day of school like it was yesterday, baby.”
The Next Day
The next morning, I treated myself to an episode of True Detective with no interruptions and left to pick up the kids at their grandparents’ house. On the drive to their house, a chemical reaction of sorts happened. A bunch of things mixed together that left me awkwardly trying to type words on my phone behind red lights so I could remember that moment.
1) Ray LaMontagne’s “Roses and Cigarettes” played on my Pandora mix.
2) I was keenly aware of how folky, plaid, rustic, and southern I was feeling; I could have sipped on a pitcher of sweet tea at that very moment. I know that’s cliché, but anyone who has secretly craved sweet tea when ordering Pepsi in Chicago knows how meaningful and iconic that cold glass is really.
3) It set in that summer vacation was close.
Summer vacation. A symbol of rest before the onset of something big and new. Much like I add new flavors to my mother’s delicious zereshk polo recipe, the summer offers the beauty of something new added to something familiar. Heat and popsicles. Sprinklers and the swoosh of a ceiling fan. The grainy memories of our childhood mingled with the intangible hopes our future. “Acres of afternoon” meets images of wonder: the girl looking out the window and lazily tracing her fingertips along the window screen and imagining the next thing. For a while that next thing involved buying school supplies off the list that was sent home, and then it changed. And then it changed again.
The Ah-Ha Moment
When I’m driving alone and have had some time to myself, I remember summers that were about me. Now I busily plan and unplan my kids’ calendars. The undercurrent of all of it is that I want them to have the wonder of the summer. I want that beautiful boredom to mix with all the other stuff. It is through my own reflections I have become comfortable in The South, but it’s through my kids’ eyes I am offered a renewed perspective. Oh South, you’ve been patient with me, and I can’t deny that outside of craving Baker Square’s French silk pies and saying, “Ha, you haven’t even seen snow if you think this is bad,” I don’t long for my mid-west so much anymore.
I’ve anchored here. It’s here I became a teacher, a wife, a mother. After almost ten years of watching students graduate, I feel I’ve grazed the stage along with them. Yes, I’ll still look out the window and still wonder, but I’ll wonder even more about the “in between”–between how my babies in my arms became adults in others’ eyes, between my memories of my little southern children and how they will end up shaping their own.