I was married at your age. You don’t even want to learn to cook dahl. (line from Bendit Like Beckham—just for fun and since you are a film girl and all)
You graduate from college in just three days. I want you to know that I am so proud of you and all that you have accomplished in your almost 22 years. You are an amazing, inspiring, creative, strong, loyal, dedicated and intelligent person. Often now, when we are talking, I am awed by the maturity and wisdom of the words you speak to me. It is hard to believe that you began as that tiny, dark-haired girl with the rosebud ears that came out of me when I had just turned twenty-two. I was still a baby in a sense, and I was continuing to raise myself as I began to raise you. You were the child meant for me at that time in my life—you were the one strong enough to withstand my cutting teeth.
I think you know me well enough now to know that, when faced with transitions, I tend to write. It is no different on this eve of your graduation and imminent move to California. Instead of thinking so much about your accomplishments, which are many indeed, I find myself filled with gratitude for all of the people that helped me along the way in raising you. When you were about four years old, the wise Hilary Clinton made famous the African proverb that states, “It takes a village to raise a child.” At that time, I was practicing law and very reliant on daycare providers, babysitters, and your grandparents to help me raise you. This moment of your graduation will be a mountain top vista for me—a time to look back and embrace the village that helped me raise you.
Because I am not only a lover of the written word but also a devotee of making gratitude lists, what better way to celebrate your graduation from Beloit College and your leap into the world of adulthood than with a gratitude list for all who helped you along the way. I may never get an Academy Award (but maybe you will–do they give Academy Awards to Casting Directors?), but I did manage to raise you and that, my dear, is one of the singular accomplishments of my life. So here goes a list of thank you’s that would send the “exit the stage” music playing long before it was done–here’s to your village:
Seems to me, you’ve already learned a thing or two about finding surrogate mothers. But always remember, sometimes, as much support as you find around you, you still have to reach deep inside and mother yourself. I ask that in your life ahead, you be kind, compassionate, and forgiving of yourself. Please, treat yourself with as much loving care as you are able—it is more than okay to care for yourself in this world; it is a necessity.
And to all that I forgot on this list, and I am sure there were many, thank you. Thank you so much to all of the diverse members of the village that helped to raise my only daughter, my first born, my beautiful, smart, strong-willed girl with the teeth marks. We did it!
I love you to the moon and back into the atmosphere and deep down into the smallest fiber of my being.
The Kneading Dough Blessing
My Blessing to My Three. That even if you are kneading dough, perhaps especially if you are kneading dough, that you be fulfilled in each moist, sticky moment of contact. That you have mind-bending conversations while pouring the heavy whipping cream in a bowl or sprinkling poppy seeds throughout the batter. That you feel immense joy when returning phone calls over your lap top at a coffee shop, running your small business. That you smile while you ride your bike down the streets of the new city where you have moved, exploring each little organic food co-op and french bistro. That you know both the thrill of nose-diving in the air, and the centering pull of regaining balance. That you face each day’s battle with the confidant knowledge that it is the very battle that is meant for you. That you celebrate the shape and outline of your nose each time you look in the mirror. That you always leave room in your life (and your belly) for an occasional bowl of ice cream. That you spend time meandering through used bookstores and have the pleasure (often) of seeing the exact book you “need” jump into your hands. That you might someday be kissed in the stack of books of a library or in a parking lot by the person you’ve been waiting all of your life to meet. That you might find the perfect pair of leather boots that will travel decades of your life with you. That you have many crisp, well-seasoned pickles to accompany your deli sandwiches. That you go skinny dipping and swim with dolphins (perhaps at the same time) at least once in your life. That you will participate in a post-secondary learning situation, which will open your mind and enliven your soul. That you will have some friends who will know you all of your life and hold up a mirror to help reflect back all of your many gifts. That there is never enough room in your suitcase to carry around any bit of regret. That your siblings will join you on your path, from time to time, to remind you of where you’ve come from. That you always know and feel the love that has brought you here. That you will always know and accept the peace that passes all understanding.
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I wrote this poem four years ago now, when my daughter was about to return from a Rotary Exchange Year in Japan and now, she is graduating from college in two weeks with a degree in Japanese Language and Culture (which she did in 3 years–see The New Global Student for benefits of study abroad including reducing time in college). My blessing remains–although I am not so sure about the swimming with dolphins. I’ve started to believe that is an unethical practice, at least as a commercial venture. Also, for at least one of my kids, the ice cream may need to be made from coconut milk.
Update: I watch the searches that lead folks to my site and I see numerous folks looking for a gradation song to share with their child. If you don’t already know about the Sunscreen Song, it is a good graduation song–lots of good advice here.
Well, Hannah is launched. Left home Saturday morning. I spent the weekend reading Into Thin Air, which I’ve been meaning to read for perhaps the last decade or so. I think it was my way of avoiding grief. I told myself I wouldn’t grieve her leaving because well, it wasn’t Japan and it was in the same time zone and I could call her on the cell phone, rather than relying on chance Skype conversations in the middle of the night. But this is different. She won’t really be home to “live” again. Only to visit. And so I found myself in tears on the way home from the grocery store. Nothing major. Just realizing she wouldn’t be at home to unpack the groceries, which is something she always liked to do.
Anyway, I just ran across the blog of Hannah’s religion teacher, Ellie Roscher. Ms. Roscher was very inspirational this past year to not only Hannah but her entire class and they chose her as the graduation speaker. Her speech was, hands down, the best speech that I have ever heard. Every member of my family that was present agreed. I see that she has just posted the speech on her blog. Yeah! Read it here.
Ms. Roscher also wrote a book about her time as a missionary in Uruguay, How Coffee Saved My Life and Other Stories of Stumbling Towards Grace . She gave a copy of this book to Hannah this past fall. I read it and found it tremendously helpful as I worked to understand the value of Hannah’s time abroad in Japan. I would recommend the book to any student either preparing for or returning from an exchange. Hannah read the book this spring and it really helped her too as she finally began to absorb and process her experience in Japan. Thanks Ms. Roscher for giving your heart to these kids for five years and all the best to you as you move more fully into your writing life.
So, here it is. I have only 48 hours left to teach Hannah what she needs to know before she flies the nest. At the end of Hannah’s baccalaureate mass, the school played a recording of all of the CDH teachers sending either wishes to the students or dispensing words of wisdom. It was a cool thing, but one of the only words of wisdom that stuck was from the head of the library and IT center, who told the kids that their online passwords were just like their toothbrushes–they should be sure to never share them with another person and to change them every month or so. Good advice.
Why is it that we feel so compelled to give out words of advice to our graduates? Sometimes I think that Hannah likely has more to teach me (or has at least taught me more in her time with me) than I have to teach her. Still, here are some things I know. The folk artist Patti Griffin has a “send you on your way song.” Hannah, this is my “send you on your way list.”