Through the looking glass


my sixth grade graduation, May 1986.  Sorry for the shadow and poor photo; the picture was so thoroughly glued to the page that I couldn’t take it off to scan it, and I wanted to include my father’s handwriting, because the carefully composed and annotated photo albums that he made are among my most-cherished things. 

Tomorrow, Grace graduates from sixth grade.

I remember the day that I graduated from sixth grade, in the same school, in the same building, better than I recall yesterday.

I’ll sit in the gym that I’ve picked her up from for many years, and once again, my own memories will collide with reality and I’ll fall down the telescope into that disorienting place where I am not sure what’s now and what’s then, what’s me and what’s her.  But even in this vertigo-like swirl of memory and emotion and time, something essential endures, the sturdy presence of my love for my daughter, a cord whose strength I’m trusting more and more.

I almost worry about saying that out loud, because I fear jinxing myself.  I’ve written at length (ad nauseum, even) about my fear of the distance that I know must mark these adolescent and teen years, and about what will happen to my relationship with Grace as we make our way through this time.  I know the red string that ties our hearts needs to stretch, and it will, but more and more, I’m also trusting that it will come back eventually.

We are again in the season of endings and beginnings.  Of commencement.  I feel like a broken record, but I find myself aghast, awestruck, frankly shocked by the velocity of time.  Life’s whistling past my ears ever faster, just as I was told it would.  Even as I join in the celebrations, which are bigger this year than ever, because graduation from 6th grade is a big passage at our school, I’m sorrowful in equal measure, and Stanley Kunitz’s feast of losses echoes in my head.

Last night was the sixth grade graduation party, and I was proud to watch Grace dance all night long, singing enthusiastically to everything from Journey to Katy Perry.  The moment I won’t forget was when all the parents were dancing with our sixth graders, belting out the words to I’ve Had the Time of My Life.  Once again, then and now collided, and I found myself blinking away tears.  Time is confoundingly elastic, and the past – in the song, in the memories, in the dizzying blending of then and now – felt animate, tangible, in the present.

At our sixth grade graduation, in 1986, we sang Whitney Houston’s The Greatest Love of All, and that night I co-hosted a graduation party with some friends at a local tennis club (I went on to celebrate my engagement to Matt, my 30th birthday, my mother’s 60th birthday, and a host of other meaningful occasions in the same space).  It was a sunny and beautiful day and my conviction that the future spread in front of me, glittering, assured, was tempered substantially by my parents’ recent announcement that we were moving to London after Christmas.  I recall sitting on the sidewalk outside of the tennis club crying about the departure, though I can’t recall if that was before or after the party.  I also remember that one of our longtime babysitters DJed and that the last dance was Phil Collins’ Separate Lives, played twice.

The full photograph above, which I cropped, includes the faces of three of my closest friends from lower school.  I’m grateful to still be in touch with all three of them.  I look around at Grace’s friends and wonder who she’ll still count dear in 29 years.

While it feels like only weeks ago that I stood there, it was almost 30 years ago.  Wow.  Tomorrow I’ll go through the looking glass again, into the place where time and memory and love and loss swirl together into a heady mixture whose power can bring me to my knees.

Only one thing I can do.  Blink back my tears, look at my only daughter, my first child, and be here now.

19 thoughts on “Through the looking glass”

  1. Ah, my heart aches for you. I’m already grasping to these years and fearing the “stretching of the red heart strings” like you said. XO

  2. Adorable photo! Love the poofy sleeves on your dress, thank you 1986 🙂
    I completely share your sentiments. Time is flying and I am trying to hold on! xo

  3. Oh, what a post! It must be a privilege to see your daughter graduate in your school, to have that circle close, but oh, I imagine the confusion and the pain! My son is but a baby, but the speed with which time runs through my fingers is numbing, utterly confusing and leaves me feel helpless. Be there now is the obvious
    obvious, the only thing to do and for me you have spelled that out like I’ve never heard it before. Thank you for your words, which have accompanied me for three years now. Congratulations to your girl!!

  4. Just a note to say how much I appreciate all of your posts. I often feel overly sensitive and sentimental and like too much of a deep thinker. Then I read your words, and the comments of other readers, and I don’t feel so alone. It’s really a priceless gift, to share so openly. Thank you.

  5. Aren’t we so lucky, us 40-somethings, to have that timeless song (dare I say now a classic?) to bridge our own childhoods to those of our children? The time of our lives, indeed. Can’t wait to see how the next chapter unfolds. Congratulations, Grace, and to you too. xoxo

  6. My daughter is finishing her junior year of high school, and this week all of her senior friends (most of her friends) left school for the last time and she is realizing that she may well never see some of them again. She and I are both realizing we have only one year left to be together in the way we are now, and I’m fighting tears as I type these words. We are both feeling a bit shaken and shaky as we contemplate what that means. All of which is to say: Adolescence does not have sever the cord. It changes it, absolutely, but while the nature of our bond has transformed over the last 5 years, it is stronger than it has ever been. I, too, am aghast by the velocity of time.

  7. I am awed that your daughter goes to the same school you did and that you have created this sturdy and rooted home. What a feeling it must be to literally watch Grace walk in your footsteps!! I am sure your bond will remain strong. You are such a careful and mindful parent. Love to you in this season of endings and beginnings.

  8. As I think we’ve discussed, the permanence here is something I wanted desperately to create – my own childhood was all kinds of spectacular in many ways but it was neither rooted nor sturdy. You’ve been so much on my mind lately. xox

  9. Oh, thank you – I’m grateful to know that your bond is stronger than ever. That’s reassuring and inspirational to me, both. I’m sorry about the shakiness. Sending you love. xox

  10. Oh yes. My 1974 friend – I love that we’re the same age and have the same songs running through our histories! xox

  11. I walked by when I was in Cambridge a couple of years ago and I was shocked by how very much the same the Kindergarten playground looked to when I was four–although they had removed the swingset, where I spent a lot of time. How nice your daughter was able to attend. It’s a lovely place and I have many fond memories. The Lower School picture taken in 1983 is framed in our hallway and my kids enjoy finding me in the picture with my long braids and sour expression (trying for a funny face, but it didn’t work out). You’re there in the row above, a good head shorter!

  12. I love every single time you write about the strange elasticity of time. It is never ad nauseam to me. I think the more we press toward trying to know more of this unknowable time that drives and shapes our days, the more grateful we are for the lives we are living in the present.

  13. Your write so beautifully! I have been quietly reading and enjoying your blog for years but I rarely, if ever, have commented. I’m finally de-lurking because some of the sentiments you expressed here remind me of a Brian Andreas quote, and I remember you saying you were a fan of his, so I wanted to share:

    “conencted by a silver cord that hums with sadness the further it is stretched”

    And while I’m at it (since it might be another few years before I comment again! 🙂 ), I wanted to tell you that I admire not only your writing, but also your parenting. I hope my children (ages 2 and 4) will grow up to be as thoughtful, sensitive, attentive, and full of wonder as Grace and Whit seem to be.

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