I’m striving for perspective: it’s an elementary school graduation. But still, it’s a milestone. And apparently, it warrants manicures and hairdo’s, and a dress ordered months in advance. If you are thinking that is way over the top, I share your sentiment. When I graduated from elementary school, I spent hours scraping gum off of the bottom of my desk on the last day, and then high-tailed it out of there with scarcely a backwards glance. But the times they are a changing.
Tomorrow, my daughter is graduating from grade seven, and in the fall will start high school. She asked me yesterday if I was going to cry. I hadn’t thought of that, and made a mental note to stuff a few Kleenex into my bag alongside my camera, my lip-chap and stockpile of granola bars.
Truthfully, I haven’t given this graduation much attention. It is hitting us at a busy time, in the middle of moving. By that, I mean I’m weighed down by the boxes I have yet to pack. But that is fairly typical; if it’s not one thing, it’s another. On her first day of kindergarten I was in the hospital, having given birth to her youngest sister the day before.
So it’s a vaguely familiar feeling, this milestone coming at a slightly inconvenient time. And now, on the verge of the pomp and ceremony of tomorrow, and new tomorrows, I am wrestling with my feelings, which are two-parts joyful, one part excited, and one part trepidatious.
Of course, I’m proud. She is an enthusiastic student with a penchant for fun and fashion. She speaks her mind and has a head for reason when all about her (in particular, yours truly) are losing theirs. She’s solid, independent and kind, mostly. She is growing as fast mentally as she is physically; we are eye-level now, but not for long. I more than love her: I like her.
She was my test-case baby; as my oldest child, I cut my parenting teeth on her. My expectations were sky-high in her early years, and it’s taken a while for them to come down to earth. My other two have reaped the benefit of my more relaxed and realistic parenting approach. But Grace had to weather the storm, not that it’s over. Even now, as the first to go to high school, I will falter and flail alongside her before I get my footing. The next time around it won’t feel so precarious. Such is the state of her existence. I’m sure it has shaped her, somehow.
And yet, despite my own parental shortcomings, I have always had utter and complete confidence in her, perhaps too much at times. Still, with high school approaching, and the terrible rumours that accompany high school life, I’m mostly confident she will make wise decisions, but a tiny part terrified that she will be trapped by the pitfalls that will confront her.
Like a mother bird, nudging her baby out of the nest, I’m holding my breath, hoping that through all of the lectures and diatribes I’ve imparted, somewhere in there is a manual on how to fly.
Tomorrow, our children will graduate in a gymnasium shrouded in Moroccan splendor, thanks to months of preparation from dedicated mothers who want this day to stand apart from the rest of their elementary school days. In the midst of busy lives, we are taking a day to celebrate. To account for their achievements. To wish them the very best of luck from the every fiber of our beings that they will continue on their skyward flight pattern, up and away.
Fly, baby, fly.
A good reading list should be as balanced as our diet: filled with nutritious niblets of several genres, with some servings of pure alcohol, caffeine and chocolate in good measure (or mainlined, whatever.) Biographies, sagas, mysteries, and classics are the food groups of literature, with romance at the top of the pyramid to provide those sugar highs we occasionally crave. A little of everything for any diet is on this list. What these books have in common is they are all beautifully written, with characters so real you expect to look up and find them in your bedroom (or car, or kitchen, wherever you happen to be reading). For the most part, they’re not even new books; but books that I happened to love this year.
What is not on this list is Fifty Shades of Grey (or Fifty Shades of Awful, by my estimation.) Don’t get me started on that trilogy of tragedy.
Middlesex, by Jeffrey Eugenides
This book takes you into the mind and struggles of a hermaphrodite, Callie. When was the last time you were there? Ya huh. It’s a family saga that spans three generations, beginning in Smyma in the early 1900’s, and their harrowing emigration to Detroit. It’s filled with colourful characters and poignant moments, and made me ponder the strong relationship between sexuality and identity. It kept me reading into the wee hours; Eugenides deserves his reputation for being a master storyteller.
When God Was a Rabbit, by Sarah Winman
Life rarely makes sense. And so it goes for Elly, the heroine of this book. A traumatic event shapes her early years, and as the book unfolds its repercussions are felt, again and again. The book is as quirky as Elly herself. It’s beautifully written, charming and funny in spite of itself.
State of Wonder, by Ann Patchett
She’s best known for her award winning Bel Canto, but my personal favorite of Patchett’s is still The Magician’s Assistant, by the by. A hint of mystery kept me turning the pages of her latest novel, set in the jungle of the Amazon, as the protagonist, Marina, discovers the wonders of the Lakashi people deep in the heart of the rain forest.
The Age of Innocence, by Edith Wharton
A story before its time, Wharton depicts societal norm as the joke that it really is. Ellen, the protagonist, challenges standards by leaving her loveless marriage. When she meets Newland Archer, who is newly engaged, Ellen and Newland begin a lifelong game of cat and mouse, and a love for all time. If you read one classic this summer, or ever, choose this.
Your Voice in My Head, by Emma Forrest
This memoir by Forrest reminds us that life is filled with ups and downs, and that no relationships are easy. As she spirals into sadness, Forrest finds a light in her therapist; when he dies from cancer she is left wandering in the dark once again. Her hostile and lonely world make for beautiful passages, and a wonderful memoir leaking with truth and life.
Here are the books that are burning a hole in my bedside table, and I’m excited to devour them this July, come sun or what may:
The Sisters Brothers, by Patrick deWitt (Back to my tomboy days with some country and western. And the author happens to be too chilled for words, great non-vibe from this guy.)
Half Blood Blues, by Esi Edugyan (Oooh so excited for this one.)
A Moveable Feast, by Ernest Hemingway (Why have I not read this book?!)
The Dovekeepers, by Alice Hoffman (When my tenth friend told me to read this, I put my hands up in surrender. I surrender!)
I’m hungry just looking at them. Read ’em and weep. Or read ’em and eat. Whatever you do, fold yourself into the pages of a delicious dessert this summer. Happy summer reading.
If you stare straight at the sun, it burns your eyes. And so it is when you lose someone you love.
It’s been a year now. There is a yawning crater where once there was an incredible person, and it’s difficult to navigate. John was a unique blend; he had the wisdom of a village elder coupled with the energy and enthusiasm of a puppy. He was a shooting star in the Milky Way, someone we gazed at in wonder. His friend said God needed John to liven things up in heaven, and that seems to be the only explanation that makes any sense.
If I ruminate over those last moments together, or the injustice of it, or just the fact that he is gone, it scorches my heart and torches my mind. Reality blinds me as though I’m gazing, unblinkingly, into the sun. Life becomes a game: do what you can without thinking about it.
It’s easier for me. I’m thousands of miles away and have three kids to distract me. Much harder for his wife and children, and for our mother.
But still, I have trouble living in a world without my brother, who was no less a superhero to me than Superman himself. Some days are more successful than others. The minutia of life keeps me away from my thoughts, and I skate along the surface of life, doing what needs to be done. Occasions are trickier. When his two children graduated from university last month, I’d guess their focus was more on the one person missing in the audience, than the occasion at hand.
Times like these, waves of memories are too strong to be swept aside. The thin ice that I skate on gives way to shockingly cold water.
The thing about grief is that it doesn’t abate in a clean, linear line, once the empties have been cleared from the funeral reception. It’s more like the tide; it stems and flows and visits you relentlessly. It is a common misnomer that time heals all wounds. Time doesn’t heal anything. Grief hovers beneath the surface of your life, it’s just a matter of how good you become at masking it.
Of course, I don’t want to forget. I will never forget. Who could forget? His smile. His energy. His wit. His intelligence. His light. His magnetism. He was one in a million. He was one in a lifetime. No, I will not ever forget. If grief means remembering, then so be it. I will learn to shield my eyes when I stare at the sun.
And still, I know. John is in the whisper of the wind, the whitecaps on the lake, and in the beautiful blooms in his garden. He’s absent from this physical world, but lives on in our hearts. Someone of his magnitude, who made an indelible mark on so many lives, can never be gone. He’s everywhere.