I have no idea what the hell happened. You must be a prodigy because just yesterday afternoon I brought you home from the hospital and last night you graduated eighth grade. You were just wearing a diaper, and your umbilical cord was still drying … and last night I watched you sing, with professional precision, “La Preghiera” to a packed house and standing O. This has to be something for Ripley’s because you are a freak of nature … newborns are helpless and wrinkly, needy and seven pounds. I went to swaddle you last night and you were laying there in a white dress with a smokey eye and nude lip. It was weird, and I asked where the newborn was that I just brought home, and you said, “Mom, there is no newborn.” WHAT???? Who stole my baby? “Mom, that was 14 years ago.”
14 years ago. Was it really 14 years ago? Am I 14 years older? Is that suckling baby really wearing 4” Steve Madden diamond cut heels? What has transpired in fourteen years cannot be measured by time. 14 years is 168 months, 14 Christmases, 14 Easters, 14 birthdays, 14 trips to Disneyworld, 10 to Italy, but that seems so irrelevant compared to the emotion of observing, educating and nurturing a baby into pre adulthood.
I remember watching Valentina fly down the hallway in her Tinkerbell nightgown … it waved behind her like an unfurled flag on the flagpole at a naval base, and it followed her down the hall until she made a screeching left turn into her room. It was in that room that her dreams of playing pretend, singing, acting were born, and her tiny brain jammed with the flurry of imagination, was without responsibility or boundary. She has brought her childhood dream of being on the stage with her though her pre-k years until today, always working, sometimes crying, sometimes freaking about her perfection, but always nurturing and loving with endless passion, the gift the Lord gave her.
Valentina had the goods academically, but I realized last night, as I watched her accept the St. Cecilia award for musical excellence that what God has instilled in us, whether we asked for it or not, is what we must cultivate, what we must love, for it is the key to our success, what drives us, what sets us apart from others. No one has the same talent, degree of talent or capability. It is recognizing what your child beholds that is the opening act, the overture, for the rest of their lives.
I realize, too, that eighth grade is not high school, or college, but it is the beginning of a new era, which will culminate in a new adult. This fleeting moment of 14 years, because it is just that, fleeting, a blip on life’s vital monitor that on December 23, 2002, I thought would last forever, was not mine to keep with me. It was all borrowed time. But, as I watched the seed I planted start to bloom with glorious petals, I am happy, proud, overjoyed at the gift I was given, the time only appropriated to me by God’s glorious will, and now hers to take wherever she wants.
When she came running to me last night in Church after the caps had turned their tassels and been thrown into the air, and those cheap crepey gowns were now wrinkled and uncared for, asking me if she could have a few friends over, (A few was like 15), I knew her childish innocence hadn’t evaporated just yet. I could see once again, the little girl in the Tinkerbell nightgown who just wanted to play pretend with her friends. I guess the Tinkerbell nightgown will save me on her wedding day.
Congratulations, my Valentina. Thank you for every moment of every day since December 23, 2002. Your dreams, your loves, are all tangible. Make them your success. I love you.
When you have eight kids, you go through a lot of graduations, from pre-k to college and with each one comes emotion, trying to recognize and come to grips with an ending and knotting the emotional ties of that end, to the joy of a new beginning.
Sometimes your offspring graduate with a great group of kids that somehow you bonded with over the years, and sometimes you could give two @#$%S about who went where after the commencement ceremony.
One of the best things about Our Lady of Mercy Academy in Park Ridge is they offer a pre-k through eighth program, so as my first three have already done, they start building their nest early, make lifelong friends, and graduation is like a retirement ceremony for a worker has given half their life to a company. Valentina’s graduating class of 2017, holds a special place in my heart. It’s not that Devin and Brynn’s class didn’t, but I was pregnant with Valentina with a few other moms who had sibs in Devin and Brynn’s class, so it wasn’t just pre k that bonded us, but the prenatal and sibling combination.
Her class started out teeny-weeney. There were about 20 kids in the class until they entered fifth grade, and they all loved each other. Of course, here and there we must pepper life with female trials, tribulations, tears, heels and gossip, but for the most part, those who started pre-k three together clasped hands in September of 2004 never seemed to let go. Mid way through their grammar school career, a few area schools closed, and OLMA made out, bringing in students from across the border in New York, injecting Vale’s small class with new faces, towns and personalities. It was with this sudden growth I witnessed the integrity and openness of a beautiful group of children who, although had a tight bond, were warm and welcoming to a new horde of strangers from a new land.
The expansion of the OLMA class of 2017 brought with it challenges as middle schoolers became teens, but I saw growth and maturity from this group that I had not seen prior. Devin and Brynn’s graduating classes had pretty much cemented themselves from pre-k forward, and the transition was minimal. It was with Vale’s class I witness the most transition of personality and bodies, and with each step, they managed to wriggle themselves into position, still holding hands with their core, but opening themselves to new friendships and bonds.
Last night, as I tried to superimpose those little pre-schoolers who were traipsing after their older siblings on the graduates who now wore short dresses, suits, and the symbolic cap and gown on that imposing altar, I was proud, and welling up with pride not just for my daughter, but for the group of non-blood related siblings she has had for more than half her life. I have had the privilege of watching you grow, watching you create, watching you become what you might be as an adult. Some of you are great artists, scholars, actors, writers, mathematicians, scientists, cooks, entrepreneurs … the world has yet to even pry open your oyster. Yet, after you took your final walk down the OLMA church aisle as a class, you cried, hugged, never for a moment truly grasping that this was it … no school on Monday, no classes together. This was it. The end of your academic career at Our Lady of Mercy Academy. Your paths will lead you far away from the building that was your second home for your elementary life, yet, you knew the bond created was hard to sever.
So, to the amazing, talented, warm and loving OLMA class of 2017, from a mom who has watched you grow, create, fall down, get up, get dressed, cry, sing, dance, draw and love …. I am proud that Valentina was a part of your life, and you, a part of hers, no matter when you met, when you joined our community at OLMA, or in what capacity you bonded. You are a very, very different, extraordinary graduating genus, and I wish you the love you have returned and the integrity to take your heart and talents wherever you wish.
God bless all you do…. conquer it all because you can.