As I sit here one hour early In the school hall of my only child, my son of 17 years, for his year 12 graduation ceremony, I have ample time to reflect on the years that have flown by, have swallowed up a little boy and churned out a young man.
Th first six years of Philip’s formal schooling offered wonderful opportunities to be greatly involved in so many ways – tuckshop, school fetes, fundraising, newsletters, parent helpers, special presentations etc. But after that initial flurry of volunteering, I felt I’d earned my parenting stripes and proceeded to step back and allow some fresh blood to step up.
So, for the past six years I have barely set foot in school grounds, in part because I know my son preferred it that way, in part because school P&C committees are not for the faint-hearted or creatively inclined.
It’s been a strange time watching him progress through the stages each child must navigate in order to matriculate. There were issues with minor bullying, low self-esteem, anxiety and despair from time to time but largely the past four years have been smooth sailing.
I was even spared the usual parent pain of having to stand over their child to ensure homework and assignments were done on time. I was one of those lucky parents whose child chose to be organised and measured in all they did. Free time was of great value to Philip so he determined early that homework was best done in class rather than dragged home to eat into precious leisure time. Similarly, assignments were deftly planned and executed without any fuss – i sometimes feel guilty that I didn’t have to go through the angst that so many parents go through in their child’s final two years of schooling. The most challenging aspect was waking up to the smell of hamburgers frying as Philip made his own elaborate school lunches in the morning.
As I stare up at the WELCOME TO YEAR 12 Graduation slide projected onto the huge screen on the podium, I say goodbye to my little boy, firmly and sadly.
All the baby photos of Philip have been staring out at me extra hard from the walls where they have hung for 8 years…… those little eyes smiling out from that big round baby face, that podgy young boy face smiling up as he cuddles his pet cat, the handsome lean 16 year old sitting staring into the distance, on the cusp of manhood.
So the time has come, the walrus said….. to imagine a new era where my 17 year old is free-wheeling around the house, enjoying a gap year before heading off to uni overseas.
Never again will I see him in those grey flannel trousers, that grey and green shirt and tie ensemble, opening the garage door at 745am to walk to the bus stop, barely stopping to kiss his mother goodbye.
His father is bound to be uncontrollably emotional at this event, and My eyes will no doubt well up with tears at some point. And now my mind turns briefly to contemplate the utter desolation a bereaved parent would experience, knowing their child died without reaching this milestone. How blessed we are that we sit here tonight with the luxury of crying for a different reason.
As the oppressive Queensland humidity bears down prematurely upon the 1000 or more people in the hall tonight, we have a distraction from our sad thoughts. The occasional sea breeze that sneaks through the louvred gives us all a brief reprieve before we embark on this emotional night of farewell to childhood.
The hall is buzzing with the chatter of young men and women, excitedly waiting for the evening to commence so they too may commence their new journey into adulthood. I barely recall my own graduation more than 35 years ago, suffice to remember that I won the French Dux prize. The layout of the state school hall is the same, only the time and uniform is different.
I’ve been sitting here now for 40 minutes, having been the very first person here to keep seats for family members. The noise is louder, the air thicker with anticipation.
I see boys that I knew as freckly five year olds, wearing man-buns, possessing bodies lean with muscle and sweaty hormones. Young women whose pigtails have given way to flowing, fragrant hair atop lithe young bodies ripe for adventure and sometimes trouble. All that collagen….. I think enviously!
My son didn’t even want to attend this night, being of the rather more introverted variety who prefers things low-key unless on his terms. I of course chided him for even considering evading this wonderful occasion. He had a haircut yesterday, so that’s a good thing.
Philip is one of those rare birds for whom schooling and school buddies have come secondary to the rest of his life experiences. He has enjoyed 10 overseas trips since birth and discovered an amazing world outside suburban Brisbane. Consequently, he sometimes struggles with his relatively small-town existence, when compared with cities such as London, LA or Amsterdam. This is a boy who discovered wings early in life.
So, there he goes up to the stage in the first part of the alphabet. A shake of a hand, certificate clasped tight, he strides back down the other side of the stage, like the other 500 or so kids in his graduating class.
After all the speeches and the singing of the school song ( which did make me cry just a little), the gathered peel off in different directions, eager to escape the oppressive heat of the hall. Young hearts run just a little freer after tonight..
We celebrated with dinner at the local Thai restaurant over a colourful conversation about family and the perils therein, and all agreed that at least we as a family could talk to each other, thanks to the lack of TV in our household. There was always something to do besides passive consumption of offerings on the flat screen. Like, for instance, having a really funky jam in the living room…..
Here we are, back at the house, stage lights set up, a groove backing track off YouTube pumps out of the PA system permanently set up for rehearsal ( oh did I mention we are part-time professional musicians?) and Philip on guitar and his step father on bass are getting it on down.
And so marks the start if his new life outside school. Lots of music, advice, love and a new learning curve about how to stand on a stage and entertain. No more schoolbooks for a while. Just the warm, hot and cool tunes as a backdrop to his young manhood.
The world awaits you and I, as your mother, will watch with love as you take your steps into my world. For when everything in life lets you down, you will always have your instrument to keep you company, long into the night, when times are hard, when people let you down and hurt you, when life deals you a hard lesson – have faith in the beauty that is music. He gift that came from me, my mother before me, my aunts and cousins who also play and sing – a long line of which you are now a part. The gift that chose you and will always be with you.
Rock on Philip.