We stood on the corner — you, in your little khaki pants and yellow-plaid shirt, Godzilla lunch pail in hand; I, in my apprehension — as we waited patiently for the bus.
You were excited and nervous, giggling with your neighborhood friends, while I did my best to make small talk with the other parents on the corner, trying to look older than I was and calmer than I felt.
When the bus arrived, heart in my throat, I kissed you goodbye and wished you luck and promised — promised, promised — I would be there when you got off the bus …
… whereupon I hopped into my car and raced over to the school, and — exactly as promised — waited patiently for your bus to arrive at the school. Together, we walked to your first-grade classroom, where I took pictures of you and made big over the fact that your desk had your very own name on it before settling back in with the rest of the tittering parents, until the bell rang and we adults were summarily dismissed.
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For a moment or two, I watched you from the little window in the door — but left before my mooning got creepy. I drifted to the solace of my car and cried proud-sad-happy tears, reflecting on those first, big steps into the rest of your life … and then raced on into work.
I’m pretty sure that’s when the planet went into some weird wormhole and time jumped to warp speed because suddenly here we are, some 15 years later — and there you are, casually ignoring me while you answer a text message. That cherubic, 6-year-old grin has been replaced with patient, lightly-bearded smile; the yellow-plaid shirt long gone, a more somber button down now in its place.
I spent the years between that first school day and now encouraging you, coaxing you, urging you, cajoling you, endlessly attempting to impress upon you the importance of this exact day — your university graduation — and what it could mean to the rest of your life.
And now that it’s here, I want to go back to that first day at the bus stop and shake my earlier self until my teeth rattle.
“Pay attention!” I’d tell me. “Time is about to flash by, and if you blink, you’ll miss it. Breathe in all the moments — even the long, exhausting ones — because you’ll need them later.”
I did breathe. I must have breathed. Because I remember moments — so many moments that right now my mind’s eye is flooded with their imagery: of a tiny infant struggling to turn over; a busy toddler scribbling artwork across the hallway walls; a lanky 12-year-old editing his first films; a stinky teenager absorbed by the computer.
How, then, can it be that I’m staring up and up at tree of a young man in cap and gown, who’s expressing gratitude in an impossibly deep voice? I put my arm around your slender waist and stare in wonder at the university diploma in your hand. How can that be, when I swear that just a week ago, I was admiring your first-grade desk?
And while I’m awash with gratitude and flush with pride over your accomplishments — and I am, so incredibly, indescribably proud to watch my first-born celebrate his college graduation — I can’t help but wonder how I missed it.
How — during all those times I was urging you, pushing you, encouraging this first step into the rest of your life — how I forgot to prepare myself for letting go.