Bittersweet is surely the word when one’s child graduates from high school. It is truly happy and sad at the same time. Our daughter, Kieran, graduated from St. Ursula Academy yesterday, and in what proved an odd juxtaposition of events, en route to the ceremony she and I stopped by the recital of her childhood dance studio to watch one of her babysitting charges perform. Sitting in the hard wooden chair of the un-air-conditioned elementary school auditorium, as groups of girls in sparkly costumes performed ballet and tap numbers, I was transported back to the 10 years we delighted in watching Kieran’s joy and grace on stage as a student of the same dance studio.
On this graduation day, already so poignant, such an evocation caused tears to spill down my cheeks, and I had to suppress actual sobs from erupting. I felt grief for myself, for the loss of something that cannot be recaptured. I loved my kids’ growing up years, and I’m so thankful that I was able to be with them on a daily basis. Talking this morning with a friend of my age and stage in life, we discussed how being a full-time mom, while thoroughly rewarding, does not provide standard measures of accomplishment to document it as a career. At this point in our lives, we’re vulnerable to doubting our choice, to wonder what we’ve really done the past 20+ years, even though they were very full and busy.
As I celebrate my wonderful daughter’s milestone, I also take heart from the ideals set forth by St. Ursula Academy for their graduates. “The St. Ursula Academy graduate is prepared to learn, has the ability to lead, is ready to serve, is eager to witness, and is committed to faith. She is ready to assume the roles that she must play in the world: thinker, leader, nurturer, and prophet.” I love this vision of women. I particularly appreciate the presentation of “nurturer.” The first aspect of this role listed in the school’s brochure addresses appropriate self-care. “She nourishes her own spiritual, intellectual, physical and moral growth so that she is able to care for others and cope with adversity.” Other nurturer traits are to cultivate community, build relationships to effect positive change, celebrate diversity, welcome challenges and respond to others’ needs. Of course motherhood is not specifically mentioned, but to me it’s inherently affirmed, and in language that does not limit women’s nurturing capacity to certain jobs or encourage unhealthy self-sacrifice. Inspiration for my future as well as my daughter’s.