Monday, June 22, 2009
What I've Helped Create
I was fine, dammit, FINE...right up until the "promotion" ceremony was over, and the kids were all waiting for us over by the refreshment table, and Baroy and I were walking toward her. Right up until then. And then I could see her face, and it was tear-stained, and one of my knees buckled, just a little, and I panicked, and turned around to face Baroy, a step behind me, and I went from FINE to SOBS. Had to stop walking for a couple of seconds, let them come, let them go, before I could turn around and face her. And then the two of us were giggling over what silly people we were, sobbing about a sixth grade promotion, hers, though mine too, really.
The thing is, I don't cry. I don't. At my wedding, I beamed, and I grinned, but I didn't cry. We don't cry on my side of the family, not happy tears. Not usually. At my wedding, as Baroy and his mother danced together, sobbing the entire time, my mother leaned over to me and said, "Oy. The Coconuts are crying. AGAIN." And I, too, rolled my eyes. Drama queens. All of 'em.
And yet, here I was. It was surreal, really. Baroy was appropriately misty, but I...I was a mess. The end of an era, and all that. Maybe. Pride. Well, sure. But...and this is going to sound wrong at first, so bear with me...all she did was graduate. No special academic honors, no award-type spotlight on her. She's not that kind of student. But there she was, beaming. And there I was, thinking, just look at my girl. So grown up. And I helped.
I'm just so proud of her for being just her. Amazing how that works. I've spent most of my life in pursuit of honors and awards to show people, because pride has always seemed to me to be something you had to earn with tangible achievements. No, Mom, that's not the message you gave me. It's what I told myself. And sometimes it's hard--for both of us, I think--to watch all her friends be lauded and feted and honored and made much of. I know sometimes she wishes for that recognition. I know sometimes she feels not-special, and I know that hurts her, because she tells me about it. And then it hurts me.
But then there are times like last Friday. After the promotion, after the tears and the giggling, after the photos and the hugging of friends, a woman we've known for the past three years pulled us aside. She's the 30-something-year-old sister of a boy who was in Em's fourth, fifth and sixth grade classes, a boy Em adores, an autistic boy. This woman acts as the boy's one-on-one aide, and she and Em have become fast friends. When she pulled us aside, she had tears in her eyes.
"I got an email from Em this morning," she said. "She told me she's worried about how A is going to do in middle school next year, since I won't be able to be there all the time any more. She said she's afraid he's going to be picked on and bullied. She wanted to know if it was OK if she kept on eye on him, if it was OK if she emailed me if there was anything she saw that was worrisome."
She stopped. "I don't have to tell you what that means to me," she said at last.
"No, you don't," I said, and hugged her.
"She's so special. Such a godsend. You know that."
"I do," I said. And the tears sprang back into my eyes.