More Strawberries and Salt
Three years ago, I premiered as a blogger with Strawberries and Salt, i.e., a mother’s emotions and thoughts on her children finishing compulsory school. This new blog, if you will, is the sequel.
And so it came to pass, that even their three years in sixth form college (the US equivalent of high school) were destined to come to a swift and ultimately abrupt end. As a family, we’d run the entire gauntlet from herding inquisitive toddlers to daycare, to curious children to school, to sleepy teens to sixth form college. For thirteen years we’d packed gym bags and picnics. Watched concerts and supported fundraisers. Listened to squeaky violins and held our breath at sports events. Driven gaggles of children from A to B and on to Z. Written sick notes and attended progress meetings. Located lost property. Sympathised and encouraged. Chided while trying not to laugh. And burst with pride.
But now was the time to cross fingers for fine weather and plan, plan, plan. Because graduating from Swedish sixth form, Studenten, is huge. Forget milestone. Think boulder. Uluru. And because, for me, planning their school graduation provided a perfect and necessary distraction from the inevitable outcome and unthinkable aftermath: life as a non-school mum.
So we started to plan last autumn. Each daughter needed a student hat bearing their name, school and any other info they wished to add. Two hats were designed online and, as they would take several weeks to deliver, ordered and checked off.
Twins in separate schools meant two ceremonies on, thankfully, two different days, which dissipated the potential dilemma of who went where to watch. A joint reception, the family agreed, would be held on the day of the second graduation. Would we need a party tent? Nah. Not in June.
The two dates were entered into new diaries in January. In the depth of winter, June still seemed a comfortable distance away. Yet at every mention of the word Studenten, a small piece of Mummy-me panicked. And Studenten was mentioned a lot.
We issued a summons to our UK family. Please come in June. They heeded our call and flights times were added to the diary.
Each girl needed a white dress and a poster bearing a photo of themselves, traditionally as a young child. Choosing dresses proved to be a simple affair compared with agreeing on a suitably cute, unembarrassing photo of the two together for the joint reception invitations. Turns out we have surprisingly few in which both toddlers look, according to their older selves, satisfactory. I swallowed the lump in my throat as photos I’ve cherished were dissed with No way!
And suddenly we were in May. Invitations were issued and acceptances noted. In turn, invitations from friends were duly received and added to the growing collection on the fridge door. A row of little faces set to conquer the world.
We attended student dinners and met the other parents. Many of them for the first time. A sharp contrast to primary school when we met in the playground every day. Now we were saying hello to say goodbye. You know your children have own lives when you’ve never met people who know your children well.
The house filled up with friends and relatives. We would play musical beds to fit in as many as possible. Right down to a mattress on my office floor. Four trips to the airport, and we were ready.
Day 1 dawned and promised to be a hot day. Eggs were scrambled to provide a soft landing for our first student’s traditional class champagne breakfast. I drove. We returned to the house to collect the forgotten glass engraved with her name and the date. I dropped my beaming daughter at the venue. Pulled away, got cold feet, and pulled over. This was their big moment. This had to be perfect. I ordered a tent for the reception scheduled for four days later.
Back at the house, we fastened her poster to its stick, ordered flowers to hang around her neck, popped a tiny t-shirt bearing her picture onto a teddy, and changed into respectable outfits for a boiling hot golden moment. We remembered the bag of clothes she’d asked us to bring.
A row of banner-clad, dodgy-looking trucks, one for each graduating class, stood in a side street by the school. We read the youthful wit as we passed along the shadiest side. In Science, Alcohol is a Solution, claimed the wags from a science programme class.
The school yard of what is one of Stockholm’s largest inner city sixth form colleges buzzed with radiant relatives and friends. We found a spot and added her picture to the sea of posters waving in the air. The main door opened and a class of screaming white-dressed and dark-suited students rush down the stone steps and into their designated area in the yard. A minute passed. Another class ran to freedom. Then another, every minute, until hundreds of fresh students stood poised to run to their families then out into the world.
We cheered and congratulated. Those who could, whistled. I expected to cry. Everyone does, or so they say. I didn’t. It wasn’t over yet. We had it all to do again on Tuesday. I had a reprieve. We hugged again. One of us more tightly than the other.
The freshly-baked students changed into clothes fit for celebrating on the backs of old trucks. Once aboard, the kids and their beer stashes began to party. Each truck was equipped with a sound system. They danced and sang, and sprayed beer between swigs. The engines revved, and the kids cheered. I watched my daughter’s class leave on the first truck. Bouncing up and down to a blaring “Hey Baby”, under a seemingly continuous shower of sticky beer, they juddered around the corner and onto one of Stockholm’s prestigious boulevards. And disappeared towards their future. My lip quivered. I wasn’t cold.
Ninety minutes later, she rejoined us in the shopping mall by the school. Beer-soaked to the skin. Dripping. Hair plastered to her head and a grin plastered across her face. Fortunately, the one thing not plastered was Maxine herself. She shook with cold-beer-cold from scalp to sole. And shone with happiness.
Her mother gaped. But not so her aunt, who regularly and deftly shepherds packs of small boys from pillar to post. “Better go and buy you a towel,” said the cub scout leader. Unfazed. Her mother bit her lip. Proud.
We did it all again on Tuesday. At one of Stockholm’s smallest sixth form colleges. Just one class of musically-talented young souls stood on the school steps to sing in perfect, goose-pimple harmony before waving their hats in the air and running to join us.
I watched the bright-red truck roll away. A piece of my heart rolled away with it. My last child was leaving school. Just four days after my first.
But this was no time to dwell, we had to hit the road home. The tent had been erected and decorated before we left the house, now we needed to throw cloths on tables, make just-in-case-we-run-out-of-something salads for 70, assemble 9 large strawberry cakes and prepare to receive the caterers. A glowing Emelie returned to shower and we were almost ready when the first guests arrived.
Four fun hours later, we stacked plates and returned glasses to crates. Packed away the ample leftovers and stripped the tent ready for collection the following morning. Then spent the rest of what would be our last night with the UK family members swapping photos and videos of the two Studenten celebrations. The realisation of being done as a school mum was too surreal to prick holes in the relief of a successful day. Or in the comfort of knowing the family would gather again in London at the end of the month.
The following days were a whirlwind of Studenten receptions. Each student as radiant and as happy as the last. And as positively inclined. True, most have merely a fuzzy idea of what they want to do with their lives. Here and now. But my faith in the future and the youth of today has been fortified. Turns out we’ve taught them a good deal about respect and empathy, equality and loyalty. Well done, parents.
And I still hadn’t cried. On the contrary. I was smugly chipper at having survived the Studenten season emotionally intact. And dog tired. Yet sleep eluded me.
But that all came to a soggy end while perusing Facebook. An abused dog video with a happy ending undid me completely. I howled for the lucky mutt who’d found a forever home. And possibly in gratitude for having a wonderful family and perhaps a little for the fear of an empty nest. Then I slept. Long and hard.
I intended to finish and post this blog on Sunday. With husband working and Em is away at orchestra camp, I had a perfect opportunity to work.
Instead, I popped to the bakery for two slices of goodness with accompanying take away lattes, then settled in for a rare binge on an old favourite DVD series with Maxine.
And savoured every moment with my grown-up daughter.