All together, now. Deep breath. Haven’t had one of those in a while, have you? Yesterday you were cleaning up a toddler pee pee accident and now here she is, graduating high school. You thought you were doing pretty well too, talking cheerfully about her college plans to everyone who has asked how you’re doing. “I’m doing pretty good” you say, feeling like the world requires your joy on this occasion rather than trying to explain to that well-meaning acquaintance that you are doing “pretty good”, but you’re also this whole other set of emotions that doesn’t really have a name. It feels a bit like the sadness of grief, mixed with the bittersweet of necessary change, deep pride . . . all turned over and over in your stomach like a rollercoaster ride you enjoy one moment and can’t wait to get off at the next.
I know you, mama. I’ve seen you every year since I started doing senior portraits. Every fall before senior year you come to my studio in Downtown Cary and we get to know each other. I am the last childhood photographer you will ever hire. That realization sits quietly in your heart as we plan your son or daughter’s senior portraits. Our meeting is usually the first “senior year” thing you get to do and I hear it so often . . . you just can’t quite believe it is already this time. Through the process of talking about your high school senior, and taking beautiful senior pictures, and seeing this artwork that celebrates their personalities, we get closer.
Some of you become my close friends. You are moms I watch with admiration and awe. I see the smallest of interactions between you and your teenager, and store them in my heart as dreams that one day I can be a mom like that. The way you encourage her that her hair looks perfect. The sweet way you quietly put your arm around her shoulders. The way you let your son see you cry. The way your eyes say “I am so proud of you” without you ever saying a word.
My daughter, CeCe, is just three years old. I still cry when she colors me a picture at school. “Muffins with Mom” might have been the highlight of my year. I watch you now, senior mom, and know only the smallest piece of what this must feel like for you. Like the swinging pirate ship at the Fair, sweeping to the highest highs, only to swoop down again in to the grief at how fast it is all going, only to be swept up again in the pride of how wonderful this child is you have the privilege of calling yours. All of it going too fast. All of it seeming like not enough time. But as CeCe told me yesterday, pants around her feet, standing in a pee pee accident . . . “sometimes there isn’t enough time, and that’s ok.” She was talking about time to get to the bathroom when you’re having too much fun playing, but its profound in its own way.
So here we are. Your senior graduates high school this week and that nugget of feeling that was there in the Fall has become this whole other thing. You take long walks, stare a little longer than you have before at the way his room looks, and sometimes just sit quietly in your car, staring at nothing. I just want you to know that you are not alone. It’s not just other senior moms that stand with you, its all of us moms. We ask you how you are doing, because we can’t imagine how we will handle it ourselves. You are the future brought to us, a reminder that motherhood is both joy and grief. Both too slow, and too fast all at the same time. You are doing “pretty good” in the way we’re all doing “pretty good” and pretty not good at the same time. We are standing with you and we understand. Sometimes there isn’t enough time, and that’s OK.