I finally took a breath. Less than 24 hours earlier my daughter called and said with a certain amount of panic in her voice, “Another girl was supposed to have the senior skip day party but now she can’t so it’s okay that I told people they could come to our house, right?” “Isn’t senior skip day tomorrow,” I asked tentatively. “Yes, she said. I paused. “I don’t think everyone will come though,” she said to fill the silence. “There are 80 seniors, right,” I asked as my mind raced to figure out how I could pull this off as my husband was out of town until early the following evening, I was headed to my son’s baseball game, had another commitment after his game, a meeting first thing the next morning and two more later that afternoon. “Ok, Sophie,” I said softly. “Thanks, mom, I gotta go, I’ll call you later.”
I raced through the next 24 hours, showing up for my commitments, filling my cart up at Costco, but feeling anxious and snapping at my kids and my husband when he called from out of town. As Sophie and I raced to go pick up tables at my sister-in-law’s house, just hours before the guests would arrive, she said, “Mom, sometimes you take the joy out of things because you get so uptight and anxious. This is not a big deal, it’s just some kids coming over. We just all want to be together.”
Ha! Just some kids coming over?! I wanted to yell at her and tell her that she doesn’t understand what it really takes to feed 60-80 people, to be unsure of how many people are actually attending, that my house is not as clean as I want it to be, that I am hosting a graduation party for her in a month, that I was a bit annoyed that I would not be able to go watch my oldest son’s baseball game that afternoon, that I was overwhelmed even before she sprung this upon me, that I wish I would have had more notice, that I wish my husband was home and didn’t travel so much…
But I didn’t yell, I mentioned a few of the above-mentioned issues but mostly just listened to what she said and let it sink in. She was right. What she said about me was sometimes true.
We drove in silence, picked up the tables and drove home. “I’m sorry, Soph, I just have a lot on my plate right now. Are you excited to have everyone over,” I asked. “Yes, I am, mom,” she replied. “Thanks for doing it.” “My pleasure, “ I smiled at her as my heart softened.
But then it was back home to the flurry of her friends barreling in and tossing hot dog buns, watermelon, corn, brownies and drinks on my kitchen counter; and then firing up the grill to begin preparing the meal. The evening swirled as my husband got home, another mom came over to help, my sister and brother-in-law came over to lend a hand and check out the action, my son returned from his game, my two younger kids were trying to steer clear of the chaos, and more and more seniors arrived, all of them seemingly giddy, after a day of skipping school and possessing that incredible feeling of being done with high school (well almost done: done with classes but heading into two weeks of a chosen internship). They ate, talked, laughed, played volleyball, jumped on the tramp and signed yearbooks.
I was busy in the kitchen when all of the sudden I looked over at my friend who was breaking graham crackers and chocolate bars for the s’mores that the kids would soon be making, and said, “I have to stop. I have to sit down and look outside for a minute and take this all in.”
I walked over to the window and sat down in chair. I finally took a breath as I stared outside at these kids who were no longer kids. They were young adults, many of whom I watched grow up. I saw two boys (young men) perched up in Josie’s tree house heckling a classmate and then ducking down so she couldn’t see where the call was coming from. “They are still like little boys,” I said to my friend. But they aren’t little boys any longer, even if they still want to play like them.
I saw my daughter laughing, playing volleyball; appearing so happy and carefree. I wanted to go hug her and tell her how happy I was for her. How happy that she invited all her friends to our house. How excited I was that she had reached this stage of life—this stage at which she had freed herself from the angst of adolescence and was right smack dab in the middle of the “I’m free and life is an empty canvas” stage of teen land.
At that moment I felt so grateful for her, for the 18 years that I have had with her, and for all that she has taught me about life. The 18 years seemed, at that moment, like a blip, like a sliver of what I prayed would be her long and lovely life, As I heard her roar of laughter and high-pitched screech of excitement, I blinked and she was three. There she was, playing with her friends, playing ring around the rosie, laughing and squealing with delight whey it was time to “all fall down”! A sense of peace flooded over me with the realization that my first-born baby was 18, happy and free, and that she still emotes the same joy as she did when she was a little girl.
Thoughts of the mess outside and the dishes in the sink snapped me out of my trance. “Thanks so much for hosting this for us so last minute, Mrs. Burton,” the seniors said with sincerity, as they slowly filed out of my house in small groups. My heart was full—full of the many blessing that my daughter has given me, including the gift of filling my house up with her friends’ laughter and youthful energy. And the gift that she had given me earlier that day—the reminder about not letting my stress to get in the way of my ability to enjoy the moment—allowed me to set aside the worry of my messy kitchen and find gratitude and joy in experiencing my daughter’s happiness and the happiness of all of her wonderful friends, who, as they are all getting ready to head out and find their way in the world.
“This goes down as one of my best senior memories,” one of my daughter’s closest friends said as she hugged me good-bye. “Me too,” I said with a smile as I hugged her back, struggling to let go.
“The cleaning and scrubbing can wait till tomorrow But children grow up as I've learned to my sorrow. So quiet down cobwebs; Dust go to sleep! I'm rocking my baby and babies don't keep.”
(A poem I have had in my kitchen since my second child was born.)