My son was one of the 2020 college graduates. It became clear rather quickly last spring that graduation was not going to be the much anticipated conventional affair, and the event was cancelled altogether before much time had to be spent trying to figure out what modifications would take place. We were well versed in what was not going to be happening, but not exactly sure what, if anything, we should try to conjure instead. There was talk about the school putting something together for fall, but I had a hard time mustering up any optimism, let alone enthusiasm, for that. I felt compelled to mark the day that was supposed to be, ON the day it was supposed to be. We asked my son to plan to be in our driveway at 6:30 that Friday evening, and gave little to no details beyond that.
I was out for my walk this morning, you know to help with that lofty goal to be out of bed and vertical for some portion of each day, and during the third mile I happened upon this view...
...something was happening in the sky that had the potential to turn the black and white photo I felt like I was meandering in a little more vibrant. I snapped the picture because it seemed like just the sort of fantastical thing I typically post on instagram. (I can wait while you get right over there to follow me.) I was pondering what hashtags would be smart and sassy enough to elevate my power line and generally cluttered shot. Something about the sunshine, shine sun shine...son shine, shine son, sunny son. It was a fast leap, and I could not escape the parallels of how hard both were trying to shine as I looked on.
The rest of us got to work on what seemed like the important elements of a graduation. We were looking forward to the change of season, as my daughter and I planned what dresses we were going to wear for the occasion. People had started doing the drive-by birthdays, so why not a graduation? We spread the word to local folks inviting them to drive by that evening to shout/honk/whatever. I had been wrist deep in my mask making efforts right around then and decided that masks in school colors and tiger mascot prints would make good party favors. Cookies, there had to be cookies as well to give to car passengers. I don't know why I can never seem to give up on the notion of events having favors and cookies. Things were starting to take shape, but also seemed to need more. I refused to celebrate his achievement for anything less than the big deal it was. I wanted something that resembled a ceremony, or at least what I thought were the important parts. My cousin graduated from RIT as well, so who better to be the speaker at our event? He put on his finery and taped a fabulous speech that we added to the video after some Pomp and Circumstance. I threw havoc to the wind and tracked down a favorite professor through the school's website (luckily there was only one with the first name I was looking for in the engineering department) and sent her an email asking if she could "present" my son with his diploma by doing a short video clip. I might have had a moment or two that I spent worrying that she would think I was off my rocker, but she could not have been more gracious. She went to the trouble of going to the school to get the full ensemble that she would have worn at graduation as well as a diploma cover for "handing" over in her video. That went on the video as well.
The day came, and to say it was chilly would be a ridiculous understatement. The show was going to go on! We had a shindig planned for 6:30, and there was not an alternative to consider. We dragged a television outside for our videotaped ceremony, did a little decorating, set up a few chairs very far apart, and scrapped whatever nice dresses we were planning to wear and grabbed whatever finery we had in school colors.
My mother and step-father were supposed to be on an overseas cruise, that was obviously cancelled, so this was clearly the next best thing.
He had made a commitment to not shave until quarantining ended...
...he did cave in July.
There was joy, there was cheer, there was champagne!Luckily we started planning early enough to gather about forty video clips from nearly all of our family, his college friends and fraternity brothers, plus a few college staff members. (And luckily we watched that in a quiet moment earlier in the day and had stopped crying in time to see people.) Our boy had graduated. Not the way we imagined he would, but it still felt like something special happened that day...despite even that not being what I had anticipated as the weather prevented any foot traffic or neighbors wandering out (which meant we had A LOT of cookies and masks leftover) and we were all relatively uncomfortable in the cold.
The next day? I was awash in disappointment, longing for the weekend we were "supposed" to have together with people we had spent five years cultivating meaningful relationships with, and did not want to do anything other than hide out curled up in the fetal position in my closet eating candy. (Obviously this was before I had my rad walking program in place.) My son though, he championed on. He was applying for jobs left and right with some degree of optimism. He looked good on paper, and not just with momvision. Resumes were being hand delivered by employees of some companies for jobs that actually existed, and then were not even acknowledged. Rejections came and more silence.
The summer felt kind of like summer, but as fall approached, he was losing his spark. I felt helpless in the face of him feeling hopeless. I tried not hover or smother, but made every attempt to be available and keep communication open. There were awkward conversations with words like "depression" and that a time could come when help was needed, suggestions to put one foot in front of the other were made. (At least I practice what I preach sometimes.) There was an eight week, seven interview waiting game with one company that consumed much of September and October, and then ended with no room in the company's budget for the position. Then there was a three month old job posting that suddenly needed somebody pronto and when he was told he would hear back the following week, he made some tactical error in believing her and now over three weeks later is still wondering. He did get a contract gig, but the catch is that it's over an hour away and who wants to sign a lease not knowing how long employment will last? He and his sister have basically been taking turns staying at her house near school since his job is five minutes from there. Somewhere in there he weathered the passing of my grandmother, hiding out from his sister and I having covid and the general malaise and exhaustion we all feel. The holidays recharged us a little, if only from the sheer amount of sugar consumed. He was then quarantined here for ten days after possible exposure right before New Year's. We all regrouped again, feeding our faces, watching football and playing a lot of Scrabble.
He is still in a sort of limbo waiting to see what opportunities present themselves. I see him like the sun this morning...waiting, trying to shine. I know how bright it will be. I know he is under these clouds, and I think more importantly he knows his brightness will eventually burn through. It is going to be amazing to bask in the glow of my sunny son.