This has been a weekend of extremes for me. Extreme heat on Friday, extreme rain today; preschool graduation on Friday, high school graduation on Saturday. I’ve been elated and proud and I’ve been sad and fearful. Funny, the weather almost mirrors my mood swing —or is it the other way around? Is it the weather driving my mood swing instead? Whichever it is, I feel like a human yo-yo.
Nik’s preschool class graduation ceremony was on Friday morning. No, Nik wasn’t graduating; we have at least one, possibly two, more years to go. But, I wanted to go see what it was all about. I am so glad I did. It was a wonderful ceremony full of music and dancing and celebration. Five children graduated to go on to Kindergarten in the fall. Some will go to whatever school is closest to their home; others, kids like my son, will go to a satellite program at another school in our district. There, they will be integrated wherever and whenever possible into general education programs. I have mixed feelings about it but don’t know enough information to really dissect it yet.
What I wanted to share from Friday’s ceremony was the profound sense of pride I felt for each of the kids. Most especially, though, for the differently-abled kids; in the year Nik has been at school, I have seen some tremendous changes in each of them. Each one of them has brought something special to Nik as well —a shared love of music, a gift of friendship and affection in spite of Nik’s lack of reciprocity. A special connection that only they and Nik may understand it exists nonetheless and I saw it in action on Friday.
I watched my little boy —so often lost in some feeling or thought or sensation which totally captivates his attention— clap and “sing” and dance (with assistance) and smile like there was no tomorrow. Yes, of course, music is a magical facilitator for Nik, but there was a connection with those kids that I haven’t seen before. Nik even has learned how to use a “Big Mac” button during a particular song which helps him learn his name. I don’t know if he actually knows his name yet but he sure knows when in the song to hit the button! I don’t mind confessing —I cried. A lot. Tears of joy and hope.
Fast forward to Saturday. My eldest niece, J, graduated from high school. How could this be? Wasn’t it just yesterday that she was my little lovey-lamb and I was her live-in nanny? I remember so vividly that period of now seemingly-ancient history when she was a gurgling baby then a curious toddler. I had the pleasure of living with my other sister (#2; I am the youngest of 3) and her husband and helping them out. They had both started new careers in the hospitality industry and were working crazy hours. I had just dropped out of grad school and was looking for a change, a new start and a chance to figure out who I was.
Helping to raise J for a full year changed my life. I knew, from then on, that I wanted to be a mother. A singer, yes, and perhaps a writer, too. But a mother —that was my ideal. I don’t think I ever told anyone for fear they would call me stupid or old-fashioned. Little did I know then what a supremely wonderful and important job it is.
Nik, Niksdad, and I sat in the bleachers, sweating under the warm June sun. It felt like a slice of small-town Americana brought to life. The ROTC color guard marching the flags onto the field, the slightly out of tune band playing the Star Spangled Banner, the sight of those fresh-faced young men and women in their crisp caps and gowns. It all brought tears to my eyes. I let them fall. I felt proud of this lovely young woman —my little “lovey-lamb” — all grown up and ready to take on the world. She’s turned out to be such an amazing person; I can’t wait to see the shape her life takes on as she grows and matures.
The speakers, as I imagine they might at any small-town high school graduation ceremony, rambled on. The sound system wasn’t the greatest so it was extremely challenging to hear everything they said. It didn’t really matter as most of it was reminiscences of their years together at school. I allowed my mind to wander to another graduation ceremony —one many years in the future.
I looked at Nik sitting so placidly in his stroller (wheelchair, really) with the pump running to deliver his dinner. He played quietly with his current favorite toy and clapped along with the crowd at most of the appropriate places —using both his hands and feet as he loves to do. (Nik doesn’t do anything in half measures!) He even crowed and squealed a bit, too. I wondered if he made some people around us a little uncomfortable. I got annoyed at myself for even allowing the thought to creep in. I couldn’t help it.
I hate the duality of thought and feeling with which I constantly struggle. The exhaustion of trying to stay in the moment, of focusing on the here and now and making sure Nik gets every opportunity possible to discover, express, and reach his greatest potential —whatever that may be. The corollary to that daily reality though is the constant need to look many steps ahead, to constantly think of the future. Am I doing enough to prepare Nik for the day that will come when Niksdad and I are no longer here or no loner able to advocate for him, to teach him, to support him and cheer him on? It is not a place I can linger, this future world of shadows and inevitability; it is too draining, too scary, and too painful to imagine the day I am no longer around to love my miraculous child. I cannot linger yet I can’t stay away. Sitting in the hot June sun, I cry. A lot. Tears of fear and frustration.
My self-indulgent reverie is broken by the sound of the crowd applauding. I feel a small hand brush against my arm, seeking attention. Nik is humming “Itsy Bitsy Spider” which is his favorite song to sing with Mommy; he wants me to play. The request itself is a major milestone. I look into Nik’s innocent face —the face of my future —and bravely smile. I square my shoulders and quietly start to sing.