I started to enter the times on our family calendar of the three graduations I will attend on June 9th, but I got stuck on the first one – that kindergarten one. He’ll stand at the front of the class, wearing his black cardboard mortarboard, and I’ll remember the intimate lunches we shared of poached egg sandwiches, tuna with capers and sometimes, simply the warm comfort of cream of wheat. My eyes will well with tears, but then I’ll smile when I realize this is his day. Standing as tall and proud as a dandelion puff, still perfectly spherical, untouched by a blast of wind.
Out of the corner of my eye, I’ll take in the moms, dads, grandparents who are there for the other children. I’ll pretend I don’t suffer from her absence — her failure to keep up with our unspoken tradition, which started with me, of grandmothers attending their grandchildren’s kindergarten graduations.
My grandma was at my graduation, 43 years ago. I have the proof in my own black and white photograph of that day – that’s her arm covered in the white cardigan sweater – must have been a chilly May day. That was the start of our tradition.
Picking up the phone to invite my mom to my children’s milestones was like adding a pinch of freshly ground nutmeg to the creamy béchamel sauce. It makes everything a bit nicer. Her presence there, as the grownup, required less of me; she would retain details I may miss. If some of these treasures are filed away in her heart, they’re safe, like an external hard drive, and my mind is free for other things.
Five years ago, she was absent, or occupied, when my son wore the cardboard mortarboard. She was just a few miles away in a hospital bed. Unconscious. The night before, I whispered in her ear, “Mom, wake up. He’s graduating from kindergarten tomorrow. I know you won’t want to miss this.” The next day, I watched him wear the mortarboard, while I kept one eye on the door, waiting for her to walk through at any minute.
She didn’t. Then, another son went through the same rite of passage without her. Because she’s not showing up, I have to pay close attention; I can’t rely on her to notice a thing. I’ll be fully present: savoring every moment so they can be filed whole and complete, in my heart. Maybe someday, I’ll have the chance to catch up with her to tell her all that happened on the day the last one graduated from kindergarten.