The day Bryce graduated from high school, the entire family came to celebrate. We ate lunch in a private room at The Gristmill. The windows were open to this glorious, rainy day and the room was decked out with blue and white decor, and baby pictures of my little man-child.
Aunt Lou and Uncle Michael gave Bryce a pizza box with lots of “dough”. And my sister, Abby demonstrated gang signs with him – in case he might need this in a dark alley someday. It was a fabulous party.
Bryce was overwhelmed with the love and generosity of friends and family. He wasn’t necessarily thinking about his first rent payment coming up in August or the groceries he would inevitably need when he moved out on his own. But that’s okay. His life was short and I’m glad he lived every moment the way he did. Bless him.
Later that day, we caravanned to San Marcos for the graduation ceremony, preceded by a quick dinner at one of Bryce’s favorite restaurants – Fazoli’s! As fitting for me and my family, something urgent and crazy happened as we were eating. Bryce suddenly revealed to us that he might possibly be dressed inappropriately for the ceremony. A friend had just texted him and mentioned they were supposed to wear a long sleeve, collared shirt and a tie.
Looking back, I suppose this is common knowledge that most mothers should know. Erik and I both graduated high school. We are not complete idiots. But when your 18-year-old walks out of the house showered, shaved and wearing nice jeans and a collared golf shirt, you call that a success. Did I miss the NBHS memo about the graduates’ dress code? I’m not saying I did, but possibly. #probably
One thing about us – we are super-efficient in an emergency. So when we realized he was not dressed up to par, the whole family went into crisis mode. Instead of avoiding eye contact with my mother, which was my first instinct, I looked to her in desperation.
Leave it to my mom, she said, “Well, there’s a Goodwill in this parking lot.” Oh Lord Jesus, a Goodwill. When has one been more thankful?
Also, Bryce’s baby sister broke her sandal while we were eating so we also needed a quick solution to this dilemma. This second catastrophe might cause some mothers to panic, but I’ll be golly dang if there isn’t a Payless in the same parking lot as the Fazoli’s and the Goodwill. Again, middle-class Americans say Amen when there is a Payless where you need it most.
So to divide and conquer as quickly as possible, some of us went to Goodwill while the rest of us went to Payless – Ryan hopping on one shoe and Bryce rolling his eyes at the ridiculous dress requirements for graduation.
In less than an hour, we were all dressed appropriately, including functional shoes and a remarkably cheap and only slightly-used shirt and tie. We hustled to the venue and into the arena, snipping and biting at each other along the way. Oh yes, families.
We got inside, took our seats and I noticed my sisters with their heads together in deep discussion and seeming at least semi-panicked. Since we’ve solved all of our apparel problems, I can’t imagine what could possibly be wrong now.
Kelly laughed nervously as Abby pointed out that Bryce’s name was not on the list of graduates in the program.
Oh holy hell, seriously?
To understand why the absence of Bryce’s name in the program is so funny to my family, I have to briefly take you back to 1998 when I graduated from Texas Tech.
It had taken me several years to get through college, while on the other hand my little sister Kelly had breezed through and was graduating right on time with a four-point-OH…So even though we started 3 years apart, we actually graduated on the same day.
For a couple of months, my parents had been receiving mail about Kelly’s graduation and all the bullet points that she needed to address in order to get her actual degree. Each item on her to-do list had been checked off, re-checked and double checked.
But since I was married and not living with my parents, my mother was not getting my graduation mail. And since my mother KNEW ME and knew my history of procrastination, denial and fiddle-de-dee, she wasn’t entirely sure that I would be getting my degree along with Kelly on that cold, December afternoon.
How embarrassing would that be!? After all, there was a party being planned for the graduates. And about 30 family members were going to be in attendance at both ceremonies, including Papa with his Igloo cooler of Dr. Peppers, Snickers and summer sausage with crackers…that’s right, in the Texas Tech coliseum. I like to imagine the people sitting around us and what they thought about our snacks and the pungent smell of that sausage.
Now that I’m a mother, I totally get why my mom was so nervous about whether I would truly graduate that day. But at the time – I was all “OH MOM, it’s fine. Why can’t you just believe in me?”
My mother and I remain shocked that I DID in fact graduate that day. But there was a little stress leading up to that moment when I finally walked across the stage. She likes to bring this up at dinner parties.
(Side note: While I felt I should be carried out of the arena amidst flowers and confetti, try to remember that Kelly graduated the same day, on time, AND she carried the flag at her ceremony because she had the highest GPA in her college. I was so proud of her and I still am. When I grow up I want to be more like her. And also, I never can let that flag thing go. It entertains me immensely to mention it to her from time to time, as only a teasing older sister would. Also great fodder for family dinners.)
Now back to my first-born’s high school graduation in May 2015. His name is not in the program and my little sisters are looking at me like history might try to repeat itself, or re-write itself. I’m relating even more to my mother as I subtly look around for Bryce’s little neck to wring and thinking of all the ways I can yell at him for too many skipped classes, or whatever the case may be.
I grabbed the NBHS program and flipped through the pages and found his name.
It’s under Michael Bryce Hughes…under the M’s, not the B’s. Oh my baby sisters, please watch as I moon-walk away from you with extreme attitude. I wish I had some summer sausage and a DP to settle my stomach.
We cheered and cried a little as they called his name. I can still see those long legs saunter across the stage and that precious grin that still melts my heart. No one can tell that tie is from Goodwill, right? Even the shirt looks new if you ask me. For real though, with this smile, who cares what you wear!
When graduation was over we gathered outside and waited for him to join us. Ten minutes turned into 20, then 45 minutes, and I’m calling his phone and asking where in the world he’s run off to.
Finally, he calls me back and says, “Uh Mom, I didn’t get my diploma. It wasn’t in that big leather thing they gave me on stage tonight.”
I had been wondering what would finally push me over the #momfails ledge today. This must be my moment.
I gingerly step away from the group (and out of hearing range from my mom and sisters) and in a motherly-growling-stage-whisper I said, “Get your butt out here and do NOT tell anyone! Also, what do you mean you didn’t get your diploma?!?”
He had no idea why, but said they told him to come to school next week to get it straightened out. To be honest, Bryce didn’t sound very worried. Should I tell Erik now or wait until my ears stop ringing?
As we walked to the parking lot I prayed, Dear Heavenly Father, please do not let my mother ask to look inside Bryce’s blue leather diploma which is currently empty and without a degree.
And thankfully, she didn’t ask. Evidently God knew I could very well start gnashing my teeth and shedding my garments to be caught in yet again, another embarrassing predicament as the world’s worst mother who buys cheap sandals and doesn’t know what kids wear to graduation.
We all loaded up and drove Kelly back to her car at Fazoli’s. I walked to her car with her and whispered, “Ok, be cool. But Bryce didn’t get his diploma tonight. It wasn’t in the book and he doesn’t know why.”
I’ve seen Kelly laugh many times, but in this instance she had to hold onto her car door as she doubled over in hysterical laughter. Thanks sis, appreciate the support. Mom wanted to know why we were laughing. I just told her it was nothing as I assisted Kelly into her car and closed her door for her. I know she laughed all the way back to Round Rock.
A few worrisome days later, Bryce went to the high school and got his diploma. The only reason it had been withheld at graduation was because he had an outstanding library book.
Oh this book? The one on your bedside table that I’ve been dusting around since October? The school needs this? Is that how library books work? OK, easy fix.
I congratulated myself for not having thrown the book away or donated it to…well, you know where.
I didn’t mean to tell this story today. I woke up to a very cold, rainy day in Little Rock, Arkansas. Erik has been traveling since before Christmas so my parents were kind enough to stay at home with the girls while I came with Erik this time.
With the sound of the rain and the cozy king size bed, I thought it might be the perfect day to stay in bed and just cry. There are days I do this and I’m not ashamed of it. The miracle is that I don’t do it every day. Some days I just have to sleep, otherwise I might go crazy in my grief. Then there are other days I feel strong enough to look at pictures and reminisce. This is evidently one of those good days.
It’s fortunate when thoughts of all my #momfails can segue into a funny story where everything turns out okay and no harm is done. Bryce graduated high school that day. The golf shirt we bought him (which he hated) was replaced by a $10 dress shirt and tie from Goodwill and has generously been re-donated. And Ryan’s cheap sandals were replaced with another pair of cheap sandals.
I don’t hold this particular day against myself. It’s too funny looking back now. There are plenty of other days and moments that I can draw to mind when I want to blame myself or hate myself on Bryce’s behalf. I think every mother keeps a running tab of her mistakes and even her near misses.
I read about #momfails all the time. Don’t we all laugh and see ourselves in every situation? We forgive each other, hug other mommas and confide that none of us know what we’re doing. We extend such grace to our fellow moms. But so often, not to ourselves.
For me, it’s been a very hard thing that the door has closed with Bryce. My time with him is past. I thought I would have longer. But I can’t teach him anymore. I can’t try to correct my mistakes with him. I can’t apologize or tell him I love him ever again. I have to basically forgive myself for being a human parent. A less than perfect mother for him.
Occasionally, I go back and read my blog post from September 2015. Never Enough.
I wrote about letting go and allowing Bryce to move out and start his new life after graduation. Even then it seems God was preparing me and helping me develop a new level of trust in Him. Perhaps talking to me about cutting myself some slack in parenting, and reminding me that I was never intended to be a perfect mother. I was, however, intended to be Bryce’s mother. And I feel pretty good about that.
Oh, Lord thank you for giving me some laughter in the midst of my tears today.