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A Mother’s Reflections on Graduation Day

00:00AM Sep 15, 2008

By Phyllis Volkens, Colorado farm wife
Well, Lord, we made it. It's high school graduation time, and you and she and I are still alive and on speaking terms. Amazing!

She's 18 years old now. I know my daughter's 18; it says so on her birth certificate. Why doesn't it say so in my heart? Wasn't it just last week when they held that beautiful, squirming, baby girl in front of my eyes in the delivery room?

Kicking and crying, she was whooping it up like a winner in a hog-calling contest. And I laughed through my tears and said, "She has the lungs of a singer.” She also had the lungs of a screamer, a yowler, a complainer and the undiluted stubbornness of all her ancestors.

The music swells and here comes the slowly moving line of graduating seniors. There's my daughter. But, oh dear Lord, what's she doing in the graduation procession? Wasn't it just yesterday that she was playing with the dollhouse, parading the unwilling cat in her doll buggy and curling up on my lap?

What's she doing in this line in those wobbly and sexy high heels? What happened to the skinned knees and patent leather Easter shoes and pink satin ribbons in her dark curls? When did the little-girl ruffles turn into prom dresses and her toothless grin become such a beautiful smile?

It's good to see my daughter smile. We've been through numerous boyfriends, five broken hearts and enough tears to irrigate a corn crop.

She's holding a yellow rose in her long slender fingers. When did they become slender? I thought they were chubby, clutching a doll, holding a crayon, poking holes in a freshly baked cake, tracing a picture in the sand, offering me a bouquet of dandelions. Where have I been?

Oh, Lord, the 18 years you loaned her to me have been so short. She's so young and naïve and vulnerable and stubborn and precious, and the time since her birth has passed as quickly as the lovely violets gently bloom and then disappear.

Oh, it's too fast, too soon; she isn't ready, I know she isn't! Perhaps, it's just that I'm not ready? There's so much more I want to say, so much she has yet to learn. I want to wrap her up in a cloak of protection, but I can't stand between my child and learning experiences or I'll cripple her very soul. Oh, Lord, it's hard to be a parent.

I love my daughter so much, but did I love her enough? After she slipped out of childhood and ran through the gates of the teenage years, it was different. The easy laughter, the spontaneous hugs, the wondrous joy, all disappeared.

It was as though she and I, who had been loving allies, became defiant enemies. Suddenly, her efforts to cast off parental guidance and substitute the standards of her peers, had cast us unwillingly into an ageless battle. It was a war I had to win, or my child would be the loser.

Those were the years, I had realized with sorrow, that softness wouldn't mold her; gentle words slid off her back and out of mind. It was lightning bolts that caught and held her attention.

So I reprimanded and was stern, when I really wanted to laugh with her and be joyous again. And I flashed her the "black ice stare” to stop her in her tracks, when I yearned to stretch out my arms and hold her.

Lord, thank you, for giving me the strength to never abdicate my responsibility as a parent, for giving me the guts to stand firm when she was furious with my ultimatums. Thank you, for giving me the wisdom to know that even when I denied her, even when she had to follow the rules that others didn't have, even when she cried and sulked and railed and I wouldn't budge, even though there were times she hated me, I knew deep in her heart she still loved me.

They are calling her name. She walks tall across the platform in blue robe and hat, white tassel swinging. She's moving off the stage now, diploma in hand, dimples flashing, eyes sparkling, and suddenly, the tears are blurring my vision and all I can think of is a pink eyelet baby bonnet and her first baby shoes.

Now, comes the hardest part of being a parent. I have to let her go, to give her the freedom to try her own ideas, even if she stumbles. And if she fails, I have to keep my mouth shut.

Oh, dear Lord, stay close to me. Now comes the real test. She starts college in the fall.

Farm Journal, May 1982