I have issues with braking. Back in the early days of our marriage, as I would — rapidly — approach a red traffic light, my facetious husband would say, “Hurry up and stop.” When, in fact, he wished I would slow down and stop.
Meanwhile, I was trying to obey the speed limit sign AND the traffic signal. (I am a model citizen, after all.) Plus I didn’t want anyone to get in front of me before I reached the intersection. Apparently, this leads to brakes that wear out prematurely. Who knew? (I think I have mended my ways — or else my husband has stopped trying to reform me.)
It has been years since I’ve heard that sentence emitted, but it has been on my mind as high school graduation weekend came and went. My work life — especially my role as 12th grade English teacher and administrator with graduation duties — combined with my personal life — most significantly as the mother of a graduating senior — has been a bit hectic.
As the 12th grade English teacher, I am used to assigning students their speeches — a last will and testament, a thank-you speech, and a graduation speech on “What does my school mean to me?” All seniors actually go on stage to state their last will and testament and to thank those who have helped them make it to this point in life. Only a select few — this year, four students — say their speeches at graduation; the remainder’s speeches appear, shortened, in the program at the ceremony.
This year, the job of shortening (and editing) those speeches and the program fell to me, as did writing the lengthy narratives of student accomplishments read as each student receives his or her diploma. It took me days to get those completed to what I hope was perfection — all while doing my “regular” teaching and administrative jobs. The school year was winding down; regular classes had ceased and I only had finals to administer. But instead of activity winding down, everything went into high gear… graduation ceremony preparation, grade conclusions, house and food preparations for graduation guests and graduation parties. Plan, rush, work, stress, fret, perform, host. Hurry.
Because I had to remain in high gear (and didn’t want to cry while announcing student achievements as each graduated), I focused on the job at hand — putting out one fire at a time, as my dear friend Leigh always said — and tried to squelch the thoughts and the emotions that would follow.
For this wasn’t just any senior class. This was my son’s class. My youngest son’s class. For 11 years, he had attended this one school. We knew some of his friends since the moment of his birth. These were the athletes I had cheered on the playing fields and courts from second grade onward. These were the Algebra students — the worst class ever — that made me want to quit teaching before they got to my junior and senior English classroom. These were the students I stayed to teach English despite that rotten eighth grade year in math. They had matured — well, mostly — and we had managed another two years together. I had led each through his or her Capstone Project just months ago. These were actresses and actors who had brought to life Disney’s Beauty and the Beast and Fiddler on the Roof and Jane Eyre and A Christmas Carol. These were the children — my son’s friends — who had become young men and women before my very eyes. The ones who would leave the school — who would leave me — and head all over the United States in pursuit of higher education.
And these were the students whose parents had become my friends. The ones with whom I sat at sporting events and school assemblies and banquets and plays and church. The ones who loved my child as much as their own; the ones whose children I likewise loved. We had carpooled and fed and clothed and vacationed and even provided toothbrushes for each other’s children. We had traded advice and complaints and discipline techniques and recipes. We had shared in joy and pain, in laughter and tears. And we had done much of this, most of this while centered on our children’s activities.
Which were ending.
I hurried through the graduation preparations, the graduation festivities, the final cleanup of the enormous party eight of us parents had thrown in celebration of these eight boys, our sons.
Hurry up and stop.
For suddenly, I recognized that I have barreled down my son’s high school road at break-neck speed to get to the end. Only to suddenly stop. And wish I had learned the lesson my husband had tried to teach me so long ago.