After recently clawing my way out from under the rubble of festivities and last minute-teacher gifts, I realized how thankful I was that the end of another school year had arrived. That is, until the very last day of school as I sat in the cafeteria waiting for my five-year-old to graduate from Kindergarten.
I glanced impatiently at my watch, knowing I needed to leave in precisely 45-minutes so that I could get back to work on time.
Irritated thoughts about why someone couldn’t open a window to relieve us of the muggy air were quickly whisked away when the digital slideshow began. The lights dimmed, music began, and without warning, my heart wrenched with sudden, unbidden emotion.
A close-up of each graduate appeared and then paused to allow for the obligatory parental tear fest. Below each child’s photo was a caption detailing what he or she wanted to be when they grew up.
The list was simultaneously heart-warming and comical, and ranged from police officers to fairy princesses. And then, my daughter’s familiar dimple-face appeared. “Emily wants to be a teacher” the caption read. And that’s when I lost it.
The tears waterfalled down my cheeks and a strained sound caught in my throat. My second-born, the one who overcame obstacles of speech and motor delays, had shown us, time and again, that we should not make assumptions about what a child will be able to accomplish.
Her ready smile was staring back at me; reassuring me that she had known all along things would turn out just fine. She had simply been patiently waiting for the rest of us to catch up. And now, she wanted to follow in Mommy’s footsteps.
Images of other children and their life’s ambitions continued to flicker across the screen, but I sat oblivious, as my heart overflowed with pride and-- a surprising sadness. She wasn’t a baby anymore, and as such, no longer needed me to be her champion or her protector as she had for the last five years.
Urging myself to pull it together, I took a deep breath and mopped up the river that had fallen from my eyes. I had missed the graduation song and tuned out the musings of high-ranking guest speakers. All that I could focus on was that my baby had grown up and I couldn’t grasp where the time had gone.
The presentation of diplomas finally arrived. Forty red-caped graduates rose and one by one accepted their rolled piece of parchment. Emily timidly walked across the stage and accepted her diploma while the teacher pumped her hand. She turned to me then and cast a sad smile my way. My heart tore apart and fresh worry wormed itself into the newly formed crevices.
The ceremony came to a quick end, much to the relief of a hundred sweaty onlookers. Students processed down from the stage and to the back of the cafeteria. Dashing from my seat, I was intent on finding out why my little girl was suddenly so sad on such a special day.
I found her, amongst the mass of mortarboard-clad graduates, clutching her now moist diploma and whisking away tears.
“Emmy, what’s the matter?” I asked, taking a knee before her.
“I don’t want you to go,” she hiccupped.
A bevy of snakes gripped my heart as guilt slapped me in the face.
“But honey, I have to get back to school,” I explained, knowing instantly how unimportant it would sound to my melancholy graduate.
“I want you to come to my class and have cookies with us,” she sniffled.
She does still need me.
Although this was the day to celebrate all that my daughter had learned, it became clear that it was I who had learned something.
Ignoring my watch, I gave her a hug and then proudly walked her to the classroom.
And ate the best cookie I’ve ever tasted.
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