Wednesday, June 23, 2010

when his future steps into him

This picture is my firstborn son.  My son who graduates from highschool on Saturday.  This Saturday.  He's almost nineteen because the summer he turned five I just knew he wasn't ready for kindergarten.  He liked to take long, book-reading naps and sit under trees in the front yard and think.  How could I send that boy to school?

The summer he turned six, I decided to teach him kindergarten at home.  It's one of the most fun memories I have of parenting.  He, as my kindergarten student, and my second son, Alex, as my preschool student.  We were also accompanied by the eighteen-month-old sister toddling through the classroom, stealing crayons and clay. My youngest daughter was only a blossoming bulge across my twenty-six year-old waistline.  Sitting down to read stories to my children was a cozy, snuggly time for about two-point-five minutes until we all smothered each other with our humanity.  Still, it was a good idea; it is the memory I have been visiting most often these last days of his final year of highschool.

It hasn't been an easy year -- for him or for us.  We've run into each other with our thoughts and ideas and plans and theologies.  Some days we all treat each other like polite friends in the middle of an argument.  Other days, it feels like things have always been perfect between us.  Some nights I have sat up in my bed and  wept rivers of regret, my husband soothing my back with grieving pats.  One night I woke him from a sound sleep, as the shock of a new thought tormented me:  "I can not think of one single thing I've ever done right for him."  Not an exaggeration, I really and truly could not remember any good thing.

But, there's that one memory of delighting together in learning his first year of school.  Maybe I should have never sent him?  Maybe, the day that one teacher's aide hinted at a classification for him, we should have listened.  Maybe we shouldn't have laughed when other teachers joked about his "mental field trips".  Maybe I couldn't do any of those things because I could relate so well to him.

Good Letters blogger, Kelly Foster, caught my attention in a fierce way when she wrote in a recent post:
 It took me until graduate school to really begin doing any homework in earnest, and even then I was hardly consistent. I am not and may never become a happy little worker bee. It takes too much time away from staring out of windows. 
Andrew is a genius in the staring out windows kind of learning. I hope he knows we value it even when most of his school career did not.

He's not too excited about graduation festivities.  He didn't even put his picture in the yearbook.  He's got big plans for his future and this weekend just represents the last thing he has to do to conform to school.  I haven't known if I should try to persuade him to feel the significance of this event more.  And, really, how many of us feel much during a graduation ceremony?  Other than the brief thrilling seconds of hearing the name of your own flesh and blood, there's not much that really happens during a ceremony.  It's a rite of  passage that gets you from the day you're a high schooler to the day you are not. And never will be again.

And I know he'll hate the ceremonial cliche and the platitude -- no matter how well intentioned -- and I know that he's learned that from me.  I hope he knows we still value the good intentions.  We value the sentiment while disdaining the sentimental.  He will not be the kid with a group of friends crowding around him for pictures.  But he'll be the kid observing every minute detail, absorbing it into some future character in a script or caricature in a spoof.

But I hope he doesn't miss the moment of realization that he has done good work.  That he has fulfilled the quota part of the status quo in his education.  That he has learned the humility of being one face in a crowd.  One average student of hundreds.  One imaginative mind that got barely noticed.  And that, at some point, he'll know he has accomplished something great.  It might be when the tassle is moved, but knowing Drew, I doubt it.

Foster refreshed my imagination with her own thoughts from a Rilke line:
I wish I were a more credulous participant in many ceremonies, graduation not least among them. I remember reading Rilke as a college freshman and being struck by this line and calling up to recent memory my own high school graduation, “The seemingly uneventful and motionless moment when our future steps into us is so much closer to life than that other loud and accidental point of time when it happens to us as if from outside."
I wonder when his uneventful and motionless moment will be?  And mine?

**The beautiful  photos in this post were taken by my cousins, Grant & Deb Perry -- photography rock stars.  Thank you for capturing so many shots of the true self of our son.**
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