On Friday morning, Husband, Art Child, and I got in the car to head north for Man Child’s college graduation. College! Graduated!
I did it!!! Err, I mean, Man Child did it. And in all seriousness, he did it well. Congratulations to you! Naturally, life being what it is here on the Fringe, Nerd Child and all his stuff needed to be picked up from his school on the same day, a mere three and a half hours from where Man Child was graduating.
So we drove.
Lovely petunias in flower boxes outside our motel room–a mere one state away from where the college actually is. Apparently the good mommies book their rooms six-nine months in advance, the fringe mamas end up 35 minutes away, across state lines, and pay a completely unreasonable amount of money for one of the most questionable motel rooms I’ve ever stayed in. Not to fear, we shooed the five bees we found in the room back outside to the flowers, and established that one of the five lamps in the room was indeed working. Then Husband got back on the road to pick up Nerd Child while Art Child and I rested (or in my case, waited for the painkillers to kick in so I could straighten up), got ready for the evening’s festivities, and sent panicked texts to Man Child regarding who would pick us up to take us to the school. His college puts on a lovely graduation, splitting it into two days so you’re never sitting for an unreasonable amount of time.
Man Child and Miss Music picked us up, I admired his new blazer, he admired my new (to him) cane, and we arrived in time for the dinner and speeches.
This is a small, arts focused but not arts exclusive liberal arts college. I met several of Man Child’s friends–so full of talent, energy, and optimism. Dancers, artists, biochemists, one I’m certain has a great future ahead of her in comedy writing, another who’s written a Japanese opera. Together this means I saw some fabulous fashion, spectacular hair colors, had plenty of vegetarian options to choose from, and *drumroll* Gloria Steinem was the featured guest speaker. Can a 40,000 year old woman squeal and fangirl? Yes, yes she can.
First the speaker from the senior class gave her speech. Clever, well timed, full of hope and witty comments about attending a not-quite traditional school that prizes individualism. This young woman is a writer, graduating from a school that has more than a few successful and prize winning writers among its alums. During her time at the school, in addition to her coursework she finished a novel and interned at a literary agency.
This is about when I started becoming very interested in the structure of the tent. So much harder for the glassy eyes and sniffling nose to become full-on sobs when trying to determine how the cloth is joined to the poles.
Then Ms. Steinem spoke. I’ll be honest, she could have stood and read her grocery list and I’d have applauded and proclaimed her brilliance. C’mon, Gloria Steinem, forty feet in front of me! But she didn’t read her grocery list, and her speech was wonderful, inspiring to the young people (men and women) sitting and listening. I was thrilled to listen, but I’ll be honest again. I didn’t feel inspired. I felt smaller, further on the fringe, more frayed and broken. Plain old old. After telling everyone I hoped to meet her, when the speeches ended I walked away from the line formed immediately by those who wanted a chance to meet and take a photo with her.
After a few minutes of fresh air, Man Child encouraged me to go back and get on line. I realized there were just as many moms waiting as graduates, so I summoned my old mosh pit moves and got on line. We joked and waited, and then I was face to face with this woman who represents so much. Not only what she did do, but what she continues to do. I said hello and told her how pleased I was to meet her, and mentioned that I had told a mutual friend how much I was looking forward to this opportunity. She politely asked who the friend was and how I know her. And that’s where I metaphorically found myself on my face. Not my friend’s name, of course. But she’s someone I met through dog walking. I walked her dogs for years, she herself is a known, successful, talented journalist and feminist, and we have become friends. Standing there, though, surrounded by all that youth and hope and talent; with this successful, brave, powerful woman in front of me, the only image in my mind was dog shit in the rain–and rejection letters oddly addressed, “Dear Fraudulent Feminist,” I mumbled something about dog walking and fringiness, grimaced for the photo and slunk off.
When we got back to the motel, Nerd Child and Husband had arrived, and were already 2/3 asleep. I pretended for a few minutes that I’m a reasonably mature and graceful woman before Man Child and Miss Music headed back to school and I collapsed into the sleep of self-pity.
It rained all night, and was still quite cool and gray in the morning. Somehow, New England manages to be bright and beautiful even under cloud cover.
The commencement ceremony itself was beautiful, and aptly positioned (for us) right outside the financial aid office.
Afterwards, of course, were more photos, and a celebratory lunch. Once again the deadbeat mom, it hadn’t occurred to me that in a small town, reservations would be needed way in advance when an entire senior class was there with their families, all going out to eat. We ended up back across the state border, in a restaurant not far from the motel we had stayed the night before. While having lunch, Man Child brought it up. Yeah, we know each other well enough that he knew all the speeches and creative youth would hit that melancholy nerve in my heart. You can’t stay mired in self pity on such a beautiful occasion, and when you have an adult child who knows you well enough, and cares enough to acknowledge mom as a person. Said our goodbyes, then headed to yet another state to drop off Nerd Child at a friend’s–because they were going back to their school the following morning to cheer on senior friends for graduation (not theirs, thankfully, that’s next year). With any luck the contents of his dorm room will find their way out of the car and into his bedroom before the end of the week.
We couldn’t be more proud of Man Child. It isn’t easy to be a kiddo raised on the fringe. For whatever opportunities he’s had, help and sacrifices offered and acknowledged, it sucked to be the one listening to classmates talk about fabulous vacations, watch others go off on school year abroad while he plowed through. He’s worked hard, not just in the classrooms but outside; connecting with others, joined the greater community and created opportunities for himself. I’m hoping he enjoys this summer in New England, continuing to work in the restaurant he’s worked in for the past three years, now as a new graduate. He’s heading to Italy in the fall, so exciting! Bottom line, he’s doing what I wish for all three of my children; not living by “I will,” all too quickly followed by “I would’ve/should’ve,” but living by “I am.” May your future blogs never include the tag “downward mobility,” in any language. All the best and all my heart, Man Child, not just on ceremonial days, but every day.