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Graduation day: Motherhood has felt like a sprint, a marathon and a three-legged race

Clockwise: Sheri Smith with her mother Ann Hanson and Sarah (5) and Aidan (9). Below: Aidan today.

I wake at 4 a.m., toss laundry in the machine while my coffee brews and plop in front of the computer to write.

Besides the rustlings of the cat upstairs, the house is still, and one thought makes me happy: We’re all here.

I’ve always loved this hour of the day with my family. I know that seems funny. We’re not exactly spending quality time together. Everyone besides me is still asleep. But we are here. We are safe. It’s a moment of peace, and I savor it.

Soon sunlight will fill the sky, and the sounds of family life will return. Music will be blasting, and teenagers will be shouting about random items that mysteriously go missing. My husband will turn up the volume of the TV, so he can hear the news in the shower. And, of course, that silly cat will want to be fed.

And then, just as quickly, everyone will leave — heading in different directions to face the challenges of the day. Pieces of my heart will go with them, off to school or streaking across the sky in a plane.

I want them to be careful as they rush to places farther and farther away. It’s my heart they carry with them, after all. But there will be no time for discussions.

“It’s an exciting time.” That’s what my mother tells me when I talk to her on the phone.

My mother is 88. I call her frequently, trying to absorb some of her vast wisdom. I know I’ll never grasp it all. She lived through the Great Depression, World War II, Vietnam, and disco, for Pete’s sake. She raised six children and, remarkably, never seemed overwhelmed. Unlike her, I feel overwhelmed most of the time. I have two.

“Enjoy it while you can,” she tells me.

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I do enjoy it — every stage of my children’s lives.

When they were babies, well, gosh darn it, who doesn’t like babies? They were so utterly adorable. As toddlers, they were basically walking teddy bears. The school years were amazing, watching them absorb all that knowledge.

Now they are teenagers, and they are — busy! Every moment of their lives is insanely filled with some rehearsal or activity. We rush around like maniacs, trying to keep track of it all.

In the middle of the madness, my mother patiently reminds me: It’s not going to last.

I know she’s right. I’ve known it since the moment they were born.

I’ve heard people say motherhood is a marathon, not a sprint. But I’ve felt it’s more a like a sprint, a marathon and a three-legged race, all rolled into one.

I tried to slow it down. Truly I did. I smelled their hair when they came out of the bathtub, all fresh and baby-clean. I gushed over their “I love Mommy!” cards and stuck them on the fridge. I saved the programs from every performance and photographed every vacation.

“I’ll never forget this,” I often said to myself. And yet the memories are a blur.

It seems the more I tried to slow things down, the faster they went. And now my son’s a senior. The day is coming.

The buzzer to the dryer blasts, so I gather the laundry and lug it to my son’s room. I pause for a moment in his doorway, feeling dizzy. All around me are scraps of his life: concert T-shirts, carnival prizes, greeting cards and awards. There’s no order to it, just a hodgepodge of images. I try to make sense of it. But like a jigsaw puzzle that’s been dumped upon the floor, putting it together seems an insurmountable task.

Instead I focus on individual items.

I see a recital program for a song he worked so hard to learn. There’s a teddy bear in the closet that got us through that stint in the hospital. Pinned to the wall is a bumper sticker from a rock band he once formed. The members have all moved on.

And that’s when it hits me: These moments are never over, because scraps will always remain — even if it’s just the influence they’ve had on our lives.

My son is who he is because of all of these experiences, and I am who I am because I watched it all transpire.

Life will not stop when he graduates from high school. We will move on to new things, exciting things. And a bit of that baby, toddler, grade schooler and teenager will always remain.

And I will always be his mom.

As for my own mom, it seems I’ve learned a bit from her after all.


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