As I’ve said before, parenting is a forest for the trees experience. Toddlers become children and grow, become active and engaged in the world around them, and the plethora of life can narrow your view to the immediate moments of this day and the next, akin to the trees in a thick wood. But there are moments when the foliage opens and you recognize that you’re on a ridge with a view that spans for miles; you’re now allowed to get a glimpse of the wider vista and can see both forward and back.
Such a moment was the other night when Middle donned cap and gown to receive his high school diploma. The event was held at a local college’s sporting complex to accommodate the graduates and their thousands of parents, family and friends. Having to help with an elderly relative, Eldest was dispatched with her boyfriend to the venue as soon as doors opened in order to claim seats that would require minimal walking. Middle went to the high school around dinnertime to join his peers on the school buses that would carry them to the ceremony and his girlfriend arrived shortly after that to join us for the graduation. Youngest – decked out in suit and bow tie – was tasked with assisting his elders while I spent an undue amount of time finding parking after dropping everybody off at the site.
But once I was finally in and seated, able to cut across to my seat about 40 yards ahead of the processing seniors, I took a deep breath and in a few moments was able to enjoy the trailhead and distant scenery. Turning around on the ridge, I looked behind to see how our family’s trail had narrowed somewhat when Eldest graduated and went off to college herself. I could see how older trails were meandering along from a distance until they more closely paralleled ours and far closer, how Eldest’s trail had once again returned to ours for a short period. When I swung my view forward, I could see the older trails still paralleling ours for the indeterminate period and how our own path was narrowing yet again as Middle left in one direction for college and Eldest returned to her own college. These separate paths wouldn’t necessarily be far away but they would at times be hidden from our view and we could only hope that the kids were sufficiently well-raised and prepared that they’d successfully forge ahead without undue mishap. As I surveyed our terrain ahead, the two parallel paths – ours and our elders – once again led into the woods although it’s certain that the forest isn’t as thick as it had been in the past twenty-one years.
The ceremony ended within two hours and another 264 adults-in-training took their place. Apart from my own son’s appearance in cap and gown, what struck me was the ovation given to the 13 graduates who were moving on to military service. I could only utter a silent prayer on their behalf as they took their place in the armed forces, serving where sent. They entered for various reasons, ranging from the desire to travel, gain specialized education or just serve their country and yet my fear is that the civilian leadership is incapable of using them wisely and stretching them to a point at which they break, either individually or en masse. Their own landscape will be more fraught with pitfalls and potentially darker than that of their peers.
We’re now back into the woods as the older kids come and go with jobs and friends while Youngest enjoys the final summers before he will also begin his journey into the work experience. But take the opportunity to step back whenever you can to see where you are and what’s around you…the view can be magnificent.