On Thursday I watched my first-born child graduate college. It was like a time warp.
My son and I flew into New York on a red-eye from Seattle, cabbed to a friend's apartment, and scuttled over to Madison Square Garden for the ceremony. the fact that a sick 20-month-old spent the entire flight screaming in the seat in front of me--and our exit-row chairs didn't budge--gave the whole thing a surreal aura. When my husband met us there, just arrived from Chicago, and finally, in the crush of black gowns, squealing graduates and camera flashes, our daughter emerged from the crowd, my emotions collided, and I could barely control the tears.
This was the little girl who happily let me put the most colorful and playful ribbons in her hair for school, the one for whom I wrote adoring notes to tuck into her lunchboxes. The brilliant student who barely had to study yet succeeded academically as a matter of internal principle. It was like that great scene in "Father of the Bride" when Steve Martin watches the young woman across the table from him morph back into the pig-tailed five-year-old she ought to be.
The other weirdness of it all is the reminder that now I'm on the wrong side of the generation gap. In my own time-stalled mind, I'm the 22-year-old; who is this competent, accomplished young woman with the long burnished hair and sparkling smile? "Pomp and Circumstance," performed fitfully by an invisible college band, paced the procession of perfect-toothed pairs of young ladies, sky-blue tassels swaying off their mortar-boards. As my own child--my baby, my "bachorah," (first born) stepped down the aisle, posing momentarily as I pressed the shutter, I was overcome with the parade of generations, and the transitiion from mine to hers, a segue I resist as well as celebrate.
The ceremony included the usual sweet speeches, an endearing valedictorian, a jocular college president and administrators bestowing honors, before the graduates crowded forward, not in any order, handing in cards from which their names were read. I tried to guage when my daughter would mount the stage to start my video, but all of the young women had identical long brown tresses; we were too far away to see much more. My camera mis-focused at the crucial moment; I captured a blurred form walking to receive the fake diploma and receive a hug from her college dean--an embrace offered few of her peers. Finally the tassles were moved, the recessional finished. A blur of flying satin, grandmothers and nephews and siblings lined with group grins, echoes of "smile!" and hugs and squeals. One by one, the flat caps moved from heads to hands, gowns wadded and stuffed in bags. Girls disbursed with their families; another milestone accomplished.
I couldn't take enough photos. The moment refused to linger. She's irritated that I keep taking images, for me so significant. I just don't want her to grow up; I want to be her protector and Mommy and put ribbons in her hair. I'm glad and proud she's a fabulous writer, a Torah scholar, a competent young woman. But when I think about it, I cry; I just don't want these magical years to end.