5.17.2011

GRADUATION BLISS AND NOT-QUITE-BLUES


Have you ever had times during which your heart is so full you can barely speak? Much less answer emails, phone calls, blog posts, and all the other ways in which we snails are drawn from our shells. So I find myself this week. Brimming. I now feel the need to be very, very quiet, just to keep myself from spilling over.

My older son just graduated from law school. My younger son just graduated from college. Each showed up, ready for gowns, in style true to form: Alex in suit and tie, Theo in bedroom slippers. Of course, like every other parent at each of the ceremonies, I was full of pride and delight at their accomplishments. And so, to all of you going through graduation weeks, congratulations of the heartiest sort.

I didn't even make a conscious decision not to carry my laptop to California for the festivities at Pitzer, or check email on my iPhone during the long ceremony at Columbia. It just turned out that way. I didn't want anything in the world to intrude on the bubble of emotion I had entered. I just wanted to bask. Soak in the experience. Feel their thrill, and mine. Pick up the buzz of excited pleasure among their friends and those families.

I went to see each son's room, the place they'd been living--half dismantled, ready to pack up, and for some reason that really put a catch in my throat.  I am left full of contained joy, with a tinge of, not exactly sadness....is there a word? it feels like a sigh in my heart. Something's done. Some big part of the adventure of parenting and childing is finished. We've come to an ending. And, yes, a beginning. I'm excited to see what each will do next. But my job for the last couple of years has been to shift into a new gear with each son; recalibrate the relationship. I'm not smooth on the clutch yet; there is no such thing as automatic. I'm still the mom. But what does it mean to be a mom to grown up sons? We'll work it out, just as we always have. I start here: it probably means that I don't say, you're wearing bedroom slippers to get your diploma? Or, rather, I laugh at the futility of saying it.

Now it is time for another move into a larger world...for all three of us. Out of these shells, into others, a bit roomier--or cozier.


On the flight to LA I sat next to Bonnie Graves, blogger over at the wonderful Girl Meets Grape. I knew her work because I'd done that conference on wine writers a few months earlier. She was working on an article about dining with small children--okay, I peeked at her laptop from time to time, kind of hard not to given how jammed together we were, and how, as a lifelong editor, my eye is drawn to copy, filings to the magnet; I'm an inveterate eavesdropper from way back. I resisted the urge to read past the headline, mainly because that seemed too rude even for me, my eyesight isn't that sharp, and I was actually riveted by my book, Ford Maddox Ford's Parade's End. And occupied by pawing into the depths of my bag of Teddy Grahams, a treat I allow myself on long flights. I did, though, go into a reverie, remembered taking my sons to the local pizzeria so they could learn table manners and practice restaurant voices. It was poignant, to think about a new generation of mothers developing restaurant etiquette.

Alex and I stayed at my brother's house in Los Angeles, and each morning we were awakened by that long, low, smoothly insistent sound of cooing doves. There was always a nest in the arbor of the porch off my bedroom of my old house; I was thrilled each year by the clutch of new hatchlings and I considered it a sign of luck and peace to have doves sleeping nearby.


The doves at my brother's house found a ledge above the kitchen window; they didn't seem at all perturbed by his small children playing noisily underneath. Perhaps they knew, rightly, that their commotion would fend off the huge crows lurking with black intention. No need for a nest cam here. Two hatchlings poked heads up over the edge, before a parent came back to settle over them, warm them. That's her job, until they fly away. Which is what they are supposed to do, I remind myself.

31 comments:

Madgew said...

Great story. I have two sons age 39 and 37. It gets even better when they have jobs, get married and have kids. The best job in the world is being a Grammie.

Karena said...

Dominique I feel right with you...those are the times of heartfelt emotion.

xoxo
Karena
Art by Karena

Come and enter my New Giveaway from Serena & Lily! You will love it!

Katrina said...

Oh Dominique, this one makes me cry. I feel every single emotion you describe -- including the futility, finally, of saying anything at all about what they're wearing. One year from this weekend my two boys will graduate, one from college and one from high school, within 48 hours of one another. It will involve to-the-minute planning, airplanes, crossed fingers and luck just to make it to both. Thank you for this little glimpse into a future that's just around the corner, and for sharing your experience. Congratulations all around, but especially to you, for being so gloriously present.

ArchitectDesign™ said...

I've found that sometimes, you have to take a break from the internet and hyper-connectivity to live life and actually have SOMETHING to blog about!

Judith Ross said...

Bittersweet indeed. It is a time in life when you know you have done your job. They are supposed to be independent, that's what you keep telling yourself. And yet....

Both my sons have finished college and been on their own for a while. And our relationship continues to evolve and, I hope, grow. I don't get to see them as much as I'd like, but they make me proud everyday. And I feel so lucky to be privy to their ongoing adventures.

Laura said...

My first born is graduating from high school next month. I am sitting here on this rainy day addressing envelopes for his graduation party and attending his final large group concert tonight - the senior awards concert. And while I have heard him play the guitar an incalculable number of times and his viola almost as many, I hear him each time as if it's the first. I can't imagine them all being done and grown up. I'm already beginning to feel a bit like a fish out of water and I still have two home. But I am a "full time" mom (horrible expression as if any are part time) but they have become my career during this stage and as they grow up and move on it's not just sending them off that leaves me wistful, it's trying to imagine how to reinvent myself. What will we all become I wonder? Your balloon and flag pictures (and slipper shot) are wonderful.

Darci said...

One chapter ends while another is just beginning. It's exciting, but...different. Hang in there, Mama. There's no point in the future where they won't need you waiting in the wings. :)

Lost in Provence said...

I am not a Mom and sometimes it is difficult for me to read your posts on that subject but I try to just focus on the great connection that I have with my own Mom and understand better where she must have been coming from. What an emotional time this must be for you. Thank you for sharing it with us.

Eulalia (Lali) Benejam Cobb said...

You're poised at the edge of the golden era of parenting...enjoy!

Dona M said...

I also have two grown sons 41 and 39 and this post hit home as I sometimes have to ask myself how do I fit into their lives now. They are dutiful and we discuss concerns that they can share with me, I know they love me but it is so different after 15 years of each day living with them sharing so much. Congratulations on these turns in each of your lives, I hope they think of you as much as you do them.

Anonymous said...

We were at Pitzer too for our daughter's graduation! I recognized the orange and white balloons from the arch. Congratulations!

Anonymous said...

Yes, I remember the graduations well...from college and law school...I had, prior to the graduations told myself I still have another year,or two or three. Then suddenly there we were, at the graduations and as proud as I was...there was an overbearing feeling of...loss. Suddenly, was my job done?

I can tell you from experience, the next big stress and thrill will be as your son prepares for the bar and awaits the results. I can tell you that in all my life I have never had such stress, when he phoned me at 7:00 am (when the NY bar results are released to the internet) my heart just stopped. He passed on his 1st try! I sobbed and sobbed, and could not compose myself. I can still remember the overwhelming feeling of joy and relief for him.
Also, you can look forward to the search and success of both your sons first job.
I'll end this with a happy note for you, they both will need your credit card number for a bit longer. This comes from the voice of experience. When my son handed our credit card back to us (several months into getting his first job)for some reason that also was bittersweet...I was relieved, but a little sad.
That only lasted a few years however, when he announced he was getting married, out came the credit card again. Then the first house, and finally a big beautiful baby girl! We came full circle again, we are back in the picture as grandparents!

Lanee said...

I showed this blog to my 90 year old aunt, all she could say was..."oh he must have gotten blisters on his feet from new shoes, thats why he had his slippers on, and of course I said, Yes I'm sure he has blisters!

c said...

and who can disagree with your well earned right to bask and soak?

Congratulations! double whammy no less ... but wait, it gets even better.

No, it's not easy to shift, we are Moms after all, and the natural instinct to protect is so strong! but shift we must.

Those once chubby little hands now belong to adults who have earned the right to be treated as such. I don't have to hold those hands for safety's sake, they now hold mine out of pure love.

It has helped me enormously to make the shift just keeping in mind that this was my job: to raise independent, self-sufficient, thoughtful, kind, human beings.

As for the doves - there is one in my neck of the woods who has been cooing every morning and early evening for about two weeks now. Like calling for his/her mate, who does not show up. Makes me sad.

(btw, I missed you)

jayneonweedstreet said...

Very touching! Feelings I know well, my son is 31! He left the nest, but never my heart! He dwells there as always!

Anonymous said...

"Mothers hold their children's hands for awhile, and their hearts forever"

Dotty said...

At least his slippers were very new and sharp looking....not old, dirty and beat up! I think he must have found them when he was packing up his room.

karenleslie said...

dear brimming,
yes, i know how it feels to have your heart soaring like mad, so full. lovely connection with the dove whose cooing lifted my head up from gardening the other day into a state of nostalgia, a comforting sound i've heard all my life. it has the meditative sound of a mantra and a calming effect. interesting that the cooing happened during a transition, connected your past to your present and of course, to your future. some things never change, like the way the cooing makes you feel when you stop to listen to it and the way you feel about alex and theo, and the way they feel about you...

strange isn't it how these feelings we get from nature set us right.

congratulations on all of it. those slippers show he is still your little boy -- sorry, but i think these are some of the best moments when we can laugh at how charming and young they are...

Warren said...

Pour an extra glass of champagne and forget about us for a time. Congratulations!

Cristina said...

heartfelt congratulations!!
and, yes, it was just the right thing to do, to leave internet alone whilst revelling in this special joy and pride of yours.

david terry said...

Dear Ms. Browning,

Well, no matter what you do or have done at your sons' graduations, it's preferable to what my father did at mine.

I was even more than usually pleased with myself that graduation morning at the University of the South. I was a "legacy" graduating with HONORS (woo-woo...), etcetera. The authorities, civic and ecclesiastical (these ceremonies always attract an offputting number of bishops) had just gotten our graduating tails all lined-up in the main quad, and we began processing ourselves into that big, gothic chapel.

cameras were snapping everywhere, and parents were crowding the steps. I was right at the main doors when, to my embarrassment, my short,fat,&happy Father (who went to the same college) came bopping across the cordon sanitaire.....the line completely stopped for a moment while he HUGGED and KISSED me (ugghh) and I thought "Oh...he's going to pull some shit on me...."

Which he did.

He let go of me and went bounding down the steps of the chapel, waving wildly, and shouting "We LOVE you, David Charles, and are SO PROUD of you! You'll be getting your COLLEGE DEGREE in about fifteen minutes!!!.....and then?...you're going to be just another unemployed person!"

I hadn't quite thought of the matter in that way, of course.

About a hundred of my friends' mothers pursed their mouths and glared at him, but I noticed that the vast majority of the fathers were laughing.....

All of which is to advise, Ms. Browning, that you tell those two boys of yours that, when it comes to the sport of Embarrassing Parental Behavior, you wouldn't make it onto even the Junior Varsity team.

Incidentally, I had four more graduations after that, but I never attended any of them. I always had the diplomas mailed to my parents. For several reasons, that always seemed the safest thing to do.

Experiencedly yours as ever,

David Terry
www.davidterryart.com

Wendy said...

My daughter graduated from Pitzer last year. It was my favorite graduation ever (and I've been to more than my share). Cory Booker spoke who made me cry and think for a moment about moving from my island in Maine to Newark NJ. I loved the intimacy of the event ; it felt like a big family celebration and endeared the school to my heart forever. My daughter went barefoot, so slippers would have been a step up. Wish I could do it all over again. Sigh. Congratulations!

quintessence said...

I'm right with you - just a couple of years behind - my eldest starts law school in the fall and the next is a sophomore in college. Knowing that I frequently relate to your well articulated feelings (would have been hard for me to resist saying something about the slippers), I'm sure I will be feeling much the same!

William said...

Wow, David Terry, you've set a record in your comment - just one sentence to YOU. Usually you give us at least 2 sentences before it is about YOU. Can't we have at least 6 degrees of separation before it is about YOU? Yikes!

david terry said...

Dear "william"...

As I've written previously, feel quite free to email or telephone me concerning your strikingly chronic objections to my postings. As I've also previously written?....this can't be productive or even minimally amusing for anyone else who reads Ms. Browning's blog.

As for writing all "about you"?...

I just read through all the comments, and I see that the vast majority of them (quite predictably, given the evocative nature of Ms. Browning's writings about her own experiences) refer to personal experiences/life/children within the first two sentences. She brings that out, so to speak, in her readers.....which probably goes a long way towards explaining why she has so many devoted readers.

In any case, I thought my anecdote was completely self-deprecating (i.e., I was a very self-congratulatory 21 year old when I graduated). My father was (and IS...we talk at least once daily over the telephone) a very funny man who's never wasted much time wondering what strangers might think. That anecdote was "about" him...not me.

I suppose I should thank you for, oddly enough, making me feel much younger than I am.

Given your repeated, quite-specific responses?.....

This is the first time in years that I've thought "Oh SH*T....did I go home, sometime that I can't even recall, with this guy's lying-boyfriend while the guy was out of town for the weekend?"

ADVICE FOR WILLIAM (and I was raised carefully and strictly by several very smart and capable women):

When you're a male and have a problem with (or just plain dislike) some other male you meet in a lady's house?.....well?....you TAKE IT OUTSIDE and deal with it among yourselves. As far as I'm concerned, Ms. Browning's blog is her house, and everyone is a guest.

In short, mister william (and as my grandmother would tell you before she drove ten jungle-red fingerclaws up your ass if you dared to contradict her)?...... act like a gentleman?

I hope I've made myself sufficiently clear.

Feel quite free to telephone or write to me. Please forgive me if the first thing I do is to ask how old you are. My good guess is "Not much". It would be dismaying to hear that you're over thirty.

And, yes...I hope that Ms. Browning will delete this and your previous comments from her blog. If you had bothered to include a personal email address with your comments. I would have responded to you accordingly.

quite sincerely,

David Terry

email: dterrydraw@aol.com

telephone: 919.416.0261

William said...

Earth to David Terry! Earth to David Terry!

It's a comment chain on an Internet blog - it's not the real world - don't get your knickers all in a twist!!

Anonymous said...

@ William,
Your comment was more of a snarky meanspirited snip at Mr. Terry....why, is indeed the question. I always get a kick out of people who make inflammatory, insulting remarks to someone and then say, I was only kidding, don't be so sensitive!
I just have to say, I enjoy Mr. Terrys comments, he has a lot of great, interesting stories to read.
Your comment is an opinion better left to yourself.

Anonymous said...

Now, William, be a good boy and stop starting trouble, a little tolerance goes a long way.

helen tilston said...

Dominique. A thought provoking post. I love the analogy of your sons to the doves. We had twin doves this spring in our ficus trees. They remained in the nest until they were quite large and I shed a tear the first day they flew away, they look so vulnerable. On a happier note, your sons are much better prepared to face the world and I know they will do very, very well. Your unconditional love for your sons is so beautiful "you love them for what and who they are" not for what or who they should be in others opinion.
Helen Tilston

Jody said...

First person in YEARS who's reading "Parade's End!" Loved that book(s)!!!!

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