Strawberries and salt
“Drive straight!” I holler at my long-suffering husband as fresh strawberries slide slow motion off two cream cakes I’m juggling as we turn into the school car park at the bottom of the hill.
Under the warm June sun, I’m hot and bothered. In the next couple of hours, my twin 9th graders will graduate from compulsory school and the state will thereby relinquish them from its charge and place their academic futures – which hopefully hold a decent upper secondary school followed by a great university – in the lap of the gods. And while I welcome change whole-heartedly in other contexts, enthusiastically hugging the heebie-jeebies out of a new interior decorating project or even embracing the switch to gluten-free, I am violently allergic to change not of my choosing. And this turn of events, however inevitable, is not of my choosing. And furthermore, and this is where is gets really awkward; a tiny part of my heart secretly resents it.
For the past 10 years, I have willingly wheezed up the steep slope to attend parents’ meetings, applaud performances or collect a sick child. Breezed through its main entrance where, for the want of a sense of direction, I have scanned streams of parents for fellow class moms I can blatantly use as human sat navs to find our daughters’ classrooms. I feel at home here. Welcome. Needed. But my licence-to-breeze is about to expire and be reduced to a mere: “Oh! Käppala School! My kids went there.” And there will be no more shows to find costumes for, fund-raisers to plan for, dropping in with forgotten essentials or any other of the little daily bridges that connect me to my children’s daily school life.
And while today is all about celebrating them, not at all about me, which is precisely the way it should be, such were my shameful thoughts as we made our way up this dang slope one last time. I wondered how many of the mothers who’d forged friendships would stay in touch now our children were going their separate ways. It was a melancholy thought, based on the number of former colleagues I had remained in touch with, despite the good intentions that would have paved a road reaching far beyond Rome by now. I seriously doubted whether I would ever see most of these people again. School’s out for summer. School’s out forever.
The kids were on an all-time high. Summer songs were sung, backs thumped (the boys), hugs given (the girls) and promises of get-togethers in August made and meant. But kept? Too soon to say.
We parents looked on while excited teens with sunny futures devoured strawberry cream cake and pored over iPhone photos to confirm everyone looked good enough for Facebook. We stood to one side like a row of left luggage stalls as our offspring offloaded new yearbooks, old project books and an array of discarded garments that couldn’t possibly be held while thumping and hugging. And the smile plastered on my face, consciously reaching my eyes, belied the ache within. Mothers dry tears, they comfort, they encourage. They do not shout “Hold up! This kinda sucks too!” I’m not even sure we are permitted to think it.
Tummy rumbles remind me I skipped breakfast in favour of helping teens glam up for the big graduation goodbye and that a family lunch is next up. Finally the kids started to drift away; some in packs, others in twosomes and threesomes, to celebrate their milestone and newfound freedom – together.
Which is why I find myself back in an empty house. Morning debris is strewn across the kitchen. Cups, mascara, unrequired school bags, forgotten hairbrush, strawberry stalks. Quiet reminders of the enormity of the day in the deafening silence. And in the privacy of loneliness hot tears distort my vision. Salty tears of self-pity at becoming a redundant mother. Guilt washes down my face. This should be about them. This is their day. And yet I cry.
And would have continued to do so, I assume, had it not been for the sound of a key in the lock that causes me to snap into action. Tears wiped away in a heartbeat, I enthusiastically greet a happy daughter in the hallway.
“That was the best end-of-term celebration ever!” I tell her, and mean it.
“Gotta get out of this dress. We’re going bathing.”
Her appetite for the what-comes-next is infectious and gives way to rational thought and common sense. After all, isn’t this exactly what we’ve been striving for while raising our children? To help them become happy, educated and sociable young people with hope in their hearts? And shouldn’t we be thumping each other and hugging congratulations?
And might I be allowed to cry a little when we reach our next milestone?