I have been dreading this moment.
I am sitting in a room full of metal folding chairs. The kind that protest loudly when you open them, and when not open, they lay stacked at the back of the church basement in precarious heaps. You touch one and they all slide down, like an avalanche.
There is a sign hanging over the stage, Congratulations! Each letter is a separate piece of glittering cardboard. It is the only thing festive about the room.
No, that’s not true, because now the room is filing up with mothers and fathers and siblings and aunts of the preschoolers who are about to graduate. They are dressed in their best and brightest clothes. They come from all over, South of the United States. Mexico, Columbia, Guatemala, Venezuela. The room is filled with color and rapid fire Spanish, punctuated by shrieks of recognition followed by “Hola! Como estas?” Everyone here knows each other.
Except me. I am sitting on top of a sheet of paper on which my mother has written Reserved. I am loaded down with three recording devices—an iPad, and iPhone and my mother’s camera, because she doesn’t trust the first two. She has a healthy suspicion of technology.
She has charged me with the task of making sure no one stands in the aisles, which I am not doing. Instead I am smiling politely at everyone and fiddling with the cameras.
My father comes and sits down next to me.
“Dad!” I exclaim. When we last spoke, he was on Cape Cod. He told me the weather had been “just awful.” Rainy and cold. It can be like that on the Cape in the summer. Some years, we had to break out our winter jackets. “If this keeps up, I’m coming home.” I told him if he did, that he should try to make it to the graduation.
And here he was. He sat down in the chair next to me. On another Reserved sheet of paper.
“So the weather never cleared up, huh?” I say.
“No, it got beautiful just before I left.” He told me, sighing and handing me a box of fudge and a smaller bag for Sophie. He drapes his arms around my shoulders.
Mom enters the room. She’s anxious. I can tell by the tension in her face. She gets anxious every year. Even though, no matter what they do, three- and four-year-olds on stage are impossibly cute. She is shushing the kids, who are lined up in the hallway, in a stage whisper that reaches over the low murmur of the parents.
“Hit it, Maestro,” my mom tells Ms. Ruth, who was the aide when I went to my mother’s school, 39 years ago. The first few notes of “Trot, My Pony, Trot” fill the room as the children gallop in on homemade hobby horses.
There is a lump in my throat and tears form around the edges of my eyes. This is it.
My mother has already told her teachers that I am going to be hysterical. I know she thinks that the kids will have to project their tiny voices above my first-row wails. So, I am determined not to cry. I want to enjoy this, not watch it through tear-streaked eyes.
The best thing to do is to not perseverate on the fact that today marks the end of my weekly trips up to my mother’s. It marks the end of packing our bags every Monday night. Stashing a bag full of new library books in the front seat that I can pass back, one-by-one to Sophie over the course of our two-hour drive. It marks the end of working in a room adjacent to my daughter’s classroom, and being able to pop in and see what she has made, read to the class, or help my mother with the computer that she is unable to make bend to her will. The nights of staying at my mother’s house, eating egg salad for dinner, their standoffish cats slipping in and out of our rooms as we sleep, are over.
But the thing I am trying to avoid thinking about the most as the children silently sign “The More We Get Together, The Happier We’ll Be,” and then belt out “Todos Los Amigos Estan Aqui” is all the people we will no longer see—my family, my friends, mom's staff. Not on a regular basis, anyhow.
And as much as I have tried to avoid taking these relationships for granted—the certainty of their presence in my and Sophie’s life—when faced with their yawning absence I feel light pangs of regret. How will I maintain these deep connections, for me and for Sophie? How can I avoid our love being pulled and stretched thin across this new distance?
I think about my own intrepid mother, who drove us into the Bronx every weekend to see her own mother. After a lunch of tuna salad and lettuce leaves dripping with corn oil and Spike, they would gossip about family members my sister and I did not know. We would sneak off into the bedroom that was once my mothers, find her childhood Ginny dolls, and carelessly break them. Or we would sit at my grandmother’s desk, drawing on the backs of the Parents magazine order forms that my grandmother sold door-to-door. It was both comfortable and boring, and a ritual I missed terribly once Alzheimer’s eroded my grandmother’s memory.
I am in a gap between rituals. Feeling acutely this loss of a precious period in my life. Wondering what the memory and significance of it will hold for Sophia. Longing to find a satisfying, easy way to hold everyone close, to stave off separation.
It is the final act. “Nice and loud,” I whisper to Sophia, as she takes a seat in one of the metal chairs set facing the audience. She swings her legs with eager energy as the rest of the class takes the stage.
“Nice and loud,” my mother whispers in her ear as she hands Sophie a well-worn copy of Brown Bear, Brown Bear.
With great confidence, Sophia pulls herself up in her chair, faces everyone, and announces, “Our children’s preschool is going to put on a play called Brown Bear Brown Bear What Do You See.”
And then her voice fills the room, escaping through the windows and spreading to the world all around. I watch her with dry eyes and a swollen heart.
She is ready to move on.
I wish this were true for me too. Days later, I am grateful to be alone in the house. So no one can hear how loud I’m sobbing, or how pinched and red my face become from crying over loss and grief.