“WELL, THAT’S it,” said the Man-in-Charge as we arrived home on Friday after attending Firstborn’s long-anticipated graduation ceremony in York.
“He’s all grown up now.”
“And yet,” I replied, “it doesn’t seem five minutes since he was a toddler.”
If only I had a pound for every time a parent says such a thing. But we say it because it’s true.
The week before this auspicious event I’d been sorting through some old photographs and had found one of The Boy performing in his first school play. It’s difficult to tell from the assortment of cobbled-together home-made costumes exactly what play he and his fellow classmates were performing, but I recall that he was designated the role of a farmer and was sporting his little Barbour cap and a pair of braces. His legs still look toddler chubby, so he was probably about four-years-old.
I also recall that infant and junior school plays used to leave me a snivelling wreck. I’d choke up as soon as I saw them all shuffling, self-consciously, onto the stage. I’d have several hankies secreted in my pockets to deal with it.
It’s a strange thing this weeping at the sight of one’s children during what should be a happy occasion. I’ve thought long and hard about it. Are they simply tears of joy and pride in their accomplishments, however great or small? Or are we reminded at these times that their very existence is a miracle of nature and that we must do our utmost to treasure every precious minute?
It’s all too easy amid the humdrum and hassles of daily life to forget exactly how much of a miracle children are. We get so easily bogged down by the struggles to herd them out to school on time; to do the shopping, cook the meals, clean the house, help with homework AND attempt to be a good parent.
On Friday, at the graduation ceremony, I found my eyes prickle with that familiar feeling and noticed I was not alone – the woman in front of me was furtively dabbling at her eyes with a tissue and around me I could hear a faint sniffing from time to time. There we were, several hundred if not thousand, parents, relatives and well-wishers, witnessing the birth of a new generation of educated young people about to go out into the world and make their mark. The pride in the air was almost palpable.
I suspect that many parents, like me, were probably thinking about the time these same young people were toddling around the house, learning their first words and dribbling over their baby porridge. And now our offspring have degrees, jobs to go to, girlfriends, boyfriends, and a life ahead of them, independent of us.
Perhaps some of the sniffling was for this very loss. We, with the greying hairs, balding heads and thickening waistlines watched as those whose lives we have helped to shape, still in the first flush of youth, strode onto the stage and completed a rite of passage. Our lives might now be on the home straight but theirs are, in one sense, just beginning. And they will never need us again in quite the same way.
But among the many degrees conferred was one that made me realise just how fortunate we are. A single posthumous degree in physics awarded to a girl who died just before the final examinations. For her parents there was no day of celebration, just a reminder that life can be short, cruel and indifferent to the fate of the individual. They now have only the cherished memories from her childhood to sustain them.
We never found out what happened to this student and can barely imagine the grief experienced by her family. It was a poignant moment in an emotional day filled with both memories of the past and dreams for the future.
In two years time we hope to be back at the same university to see Secondborn receive her degree. On that occasion, says the Man-in-Charge, he might require a hankie or two. I know I certainly will.