When the graduate was born, her father gave me a pair of fine, old earrings -- pearl drops from silver bows, Victorian, tiny gems strung along tarnished ribbons, a suggestion of sparkle there, no more. I wore those earrings every day for a couple of years. Then, when the graduate was only a toddler, one of them up and evaporated.
It was tax time, I remember. I had one in each ear when we left to see the accountant, but somewhere between the car and his office, maybe during a discussion about college savings, the pearl on the right side disappeared, never to be recovered.
"Don't cry over anything that can't cry over you," a friend once said, so I took the remaining trinket to a jeweler, who turned it into a charm to hang from a chain around my neck. But it was too lovely, too fragile, a thing meant for a person with a pronounced clavicle, a hollow at the base of her throat, a girl with delicate bones, like my daughter: the graduate.
Last week, along with about 900 other families, we snaked across Los Feliz Boulevard, crawled up Hillhurst and Vermont, found our way into a parking lot, every space taken from below the Vermont Canyon tennis courts to way up above the Greek, where we waited, all ears, as every member of the John Marshall High School Class of 2008 was called, one by one and in no particular order, to march in, collect a diploma and then find a seat in the front section of the amphitheater. My son, the graduate's brother, counted 917 names, but another friend was sure there were 921, and though, admittedly, I sniffled through the first five playbacks of "Pomp and Circumstance" in the background, by the 47th, I was pretty much all cried out.
Then over to Chinatown with two other families for lunch, sodas on the house for the three graduates, and when my son, who will be a sophomore in the fall, asked for a Sprite, we told him he'd have to wait three years, take the requisite number of AP classes, visit the requisite number of colleges, fill out those applications, work a few more summers for his spending money, fight with us over chores, homework, car keys, what have you, before he collected on a free soda.
But all of that was tongue in cheek because, the truth is, the graduate hasn't given us much trouble, focused as she's been on her future (the future is its own reward in her case). She was determined from the beginning to attend college in the East, already plans for a junior year abroad, for graduate school, for life to finally begin on her terms 3,000 miles away.
And never until now were we so aware of how short our tenure as parents, how brief this time together as a family. These roles -- mother, father -- so central to our definition of ourselves for the rest of our lives, this lovely young woman so central to our imaginations, waking and sleeping.
"Don't make me cry, Mom," says the graduate, and it's because she says it that I know I'm allowed to weep if I want.
But what's to cry about? The graduate was a pole vaulter in high school. Assuming we've done this right, all of us, she's supposed to catapult herself up and over and into a life that hopefully will include us in some peripheral way. It's not that the graduate won't be back -- but while she will remain at the center of our lives, other people, other relationships, will take on paramount importance in her own. That's as it should be; that's how it's done.
Just before lunch, we give her the charm wrapped in tissue and ribbon, along with a card; on the front, a girl reading in a chair that is hovering above the grass, as if it had achieved liftoff and was about to careen into space.
Be safe, I wanted to write on the inside, buckle up, don't jump, hold on, watch where you're going, and a dozen other cautionary aphorisms. But the graduate's father had a better idea: "How about, 'Enjoy the ride'?" he offered. We're her parents, after all, and the rest of it goes without saying.