The Un-Milestone

For the last month I have been consciously ignoring some emotions and thoughts, avoiding the truth of the moment, wanting it all to go away like a bad dream. As much as I try to sweep away the thoughts and emotions as soon as they creep into sight, they keep coming back, with stealth and sneakiness and even a bit of snarkiness. So I’ve resigned to the fact that I need to face this ugliness, talk about it, feel it, grieve the moment, and then begin a healing process (if possible) and move forward. I don’t know what part will be the most painful, but I know I can’t avoid this any longer. I must move away from this dark spot.

If you have followed my blog at all, you’re aware that I have an eighteen-year-old daughter who has been struggling for the last few years to find herself and her place in the world. She is the last of four daughters and because of that she has had plenty of opportunities to watch how her older sisters navigated through adolescence and launched themselves into their adulthood. In my motherly ignorance I thought the youngest would have the easiest route through the teenage years because she would have a lengthy book of notes on what to do and what not to do, what brings success and rewards, and what has negative consequences.

But, it turns out, my lovely and super-smart daughter, Brianna, didn’t take any notes. Or if she did, she misplaced the notebook a long, long time ago and neglected to tell anyone or to ask anyone to copy their notes so she could catch up. And it appears Brianna took the path of least resistance (for her, not others) and chose to not go to school, to not show up for work, and to not be accountable for anything except personal hygiene. (Okay, a bit of snarkiness coming through, but sometimes the truth is uglier than fiction.)

For the last eighteen years, I have been focused on June 2012. This was going to be the moment when my youngest daughter graduated from high school and I could semi-retire as a mom. I was too smart to know I could stop being a mom entirely, but I truly thought a part-time effort would be all that was required of me at this point in my life. Four years ago, my second daughter graduated from high school and I remember thinking at that time that June 2012 would be a busy month because we would be celebrating two graduations, one for Rose after four years of college and one for Brianna as she graduated high school. Two years ago as my third daughter graduated high school, I remember making mental notes for better planning as to the logistics of the ceremony and parking and pictures. And I played around with menu ideas for Brianna’s day and wrote down things that she wanted to have at her celebration.

Sadly, we never made it to that milestone. Brianna should have walked to the strains of “Pomp and Circumstance” a week ago with her classmates. Sure, we would have tortured her with photos and “just one more” and “hats off!” But it would have been a grand moment. And then we would have partied “til the cows came home” as the last of four children and the last of twenty-six grandchildren graduated. Except Brianna took the path of least resistance, and didn’t do the homework, didn’t attend class, and didn’t accept the guidance and love and help from her friends and family.

I love Brianna. She is my daughter and will be forever, no matter what. But even a mother’s love cannot shield disappointment as great as what I feel. And even Mother’s Love cannot safeguard against powerlessness. I have found this moment to be the ultimate test—of letting go, of dealing with disappointment, of the meaning of great expectations, of the loss of a dream, of unconditional love.

Despite the darkness that hangs over me and the great despair and sadness I feel in this moment, I am not a completely self-centered or selfish person and my thoughts do run to Brianna and what she must be feeling and thinking. Truth be told, I cannot fathom what she must be going through. I cannot relate to what it feels like to spend your life moving toward a moment and then have the finish line dismantled and removed before you get there. I can’t understand what it feels like to have friends and family offering help and love, but blindness prevents you from seeing it or grasping it. As dark as my despair is, I cannot fathom hers. At fifty, I am on the other side of my threshold and the door is slightly turned in. At eighteen, Brianna’s door is just now opening. I am so frightened for her that it will shut in her face and she won’t know how to re-open it.

As I watch Brianna struggle daily with her anxieties, I am well aware that my own anxieties are surfacing and irrational fears are creeping in. I worry she’ll never get a diploma or GED. I worry she’ll never accomplish anything more than a minimum-wage job. I’m afraid she’ll be forty and will be my full-time caretaker not by choice, but by circumstance.

There was so much more I wanted for Brianna, but I keep reminding myself that this isn’t about what I want. It isn’t about my happiness as much as I’d like it to be. And therein lies the rub. I have to let go of the dreams I had for June 2012. I need to grieve the loss of a fourth graduation ceremony full of pomp and circumstance. I must accept that this is one milestone that wasn’t achieved when we all expected it. I have to steel myself for a longer run at mothering than I anticipated. And I must replenish my patience and find the means within to steer Brianna a while longer through this minefield.

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