5th Grade Graduation

Claire, daughter of DC widow blog writer Marjorie Brimley, plays guitar

Today is your last day of 5th grade.

When you were just 5 years old, you held the hands of both of your parents as you stood on the big field, waiting for the first day of kindergarten. It was loud and filled with hundreds of people and you were uncharacteristically quiet. Your eyes were big and you squeezed my hand. I squeezed it back three times to say, “I love you” in our secret code.

When it was time for the adults to leave, you clung to me and to your father. You cried and screamed for us, and in the end, your teacher had to hold you while we left. There were 26 kindergarteners in your class but you were the one she had to hold.

I cried in the hallway outside your classroom, sinking my face into your father’s chest. “She’s just so little to be in this big school,” I said, as though all of the other kids weren’t also the same size.

But I didn’t go back inside. I let you stay there out there in the big world without me and without your dad.

It wasn’t the first time you’d been without us, of course, but it felt so momentous. Kindergarten. As I left, I thought about how much you were going to learn in the six years you’d be in that building. I saw the fifth graders in the hall and thought about how big you were going to get. I couldn’t imagine what the future held, but it felt like the first of many times I’d have to let you go.

You faced a whole lifetime of emotions, it seems, when you were in that building. Just a few years after that scene in the kindergarten classroom, we found out your father had cancer, and you cried, because you didn’t really understand what that meant but you knew that cancer was very, very bad. And yet, you still went to school that winter. You walked down the same hallways and talked to the same friends and had the same teachers say “hi Claire” to you every day of his illness. And every day after he died, you did the same thing in those hallways, and the people in those hallways did the same thing they’d always done. “Hi, Claire,” I’d hear them say to you every single day. Often, you’d get a hug too.

You were scared a lot that year – scared of facing the other kids in your classroom and scared of eating alone in the cafeteria. You were scared of cancer and death and things that no 8-year-old should have to think about. But you still went to school, and even though my heart broke a little each day as you walked away from me and towards your classroom, I knew it was important that I let you go. That I let you face this world.

When your father was dying, he began to make a series of videos for you to watch throughout your lifetime. We had a whole list of events you’d likely experience, and we figured he should make a video for each of them. But as you know, he died too quickly, and he could only make a couple of them.

He made a video for your birthday and one for you to watch when you needed advice, and then it was time to make one more. The next video he was supposed to make was “5th grade graduation,” but he was too sick that next day. He didn’t get the chance.

I’m not sure what he would have said on the video. That was two and a half years ago, and you’ve grown so much since then that it’s hard to remember how we once imagined your future.

But I knew your father, and I knew what he wanted for you. So if I had to take a guess, think he would have said something like this:

Claire, today you are graduating from elementary school. You have made it through the first part of your childhood, and you have done it with an open heart and a joyful spirit. I know that the future will be good for you, but not because it will always be easy. There will be times that are hard, because life is like that, but what I want you to know is that you can get through those times. You will have your mother and your brothers and so many other people who love you and who will continue to surround you with love. And you will have yourself. So when you’re feeling like things are hard, you just have to remember who you are: a strong, thoughtful and brilliant young woman with a family that will always stand by you.

I love you. You are my girl.

I know you don’t have your dad to say those words to you today, but you have me. And I have you.

Yes, I’ve had to let you go in this world, and that’s meant that sometimes you’ve experienced hardship and lived through pain. But I’ll always be your home base, baby. So as you become older, reach out towards the world, move apart from me and grow up, know this:

Your mama is always here, watching and waiting. I cannot protect you from everything, but I can wrap my arms around you when you are sad or scared or so excited you just don’t know what to do. Go out into the world, but know that your family is here back at home, always waiting for you.

I’m so proud of you, Claire. Happy graduation.

Image Credit: Stefanie Harrington Photography.

8 Replies to “5th Grade Graduation”

  1. I love so many of your blogs, but this one… I really love. Claire is such a great kid, and we’re so proud part of her village. That award was destined for her.

    1. Thank you my friend! We are all so lucky to have this community around us, so filled with love!!

  2. Today was also is my sons’s graduation from primary school, but because of Covid 19 he and his friends cannot be together so we just had a zoom call with all his friends and families. It was a lovely lovely experience but sad also. He too was eight when his dad passed away and like Claire he continued going to school while his dad was sick and after he passed away. I tried so hard today to make it a special day for him, but in the back of my mind I had the memory that this day 4 years ago his dad left our home to go into Hospice and never came home, for me this day is almost as bad if not worse than the day he passed away…. he never came home !! Today I feel that no matter what we do on special occasions there will always be this sadness in the background. After almost 4 years we are doing well but today not so good!!!
    thanks for writing it really helps me. take care..

    1. I know the feeling. It’s so happy and sad on days like this – so so so many mixed emotions, but we all just do the best we can. Thank you for reading, and for writing here.

  3. Marjory, this song has been my parenting motto since day one, https://music.apple.com/us/album/if-i-could/203760168?i=203761836. And it’s been on my mind so much this past week.

    But I realize that our job is not to protect them from this complicated world, but to be their due north when they are knocked down and need to find the strength and courage to get back up again. 💗💗💗

    1. Love this. And yes, it’s about being their “due north” when they are standing back up!

  4. I don’t know how much you have helped me! I read this in my bedroom while my eldest son, 24 years old , was sitting in the living room. I just moved to the couch to make myself present! You remind me to be more in tune and present! You are a wonderful mother with all the right words and equally important actions. I try my best to cook Shaila’s food (Indian dishes) so our home is still our home. I’m not perfect (which you have said so many times in your posts) but you remind me how important we as parents are for our children. Thank you!

    1. Yes – we cannot be perfect. But as you note, we can be present and we can try our best….and that counts for a lot!

Leave a Reply