Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Closing the Chapter on Middle School ~ Benedict's Graduation & A Surprise Trip to Kansas City for a Royals Game

In every mother's heart, there is a book filled with the chapters of her children's lives.  And when she looks at her children she sees every page of their lives from beginning to the present.  Their faces are a portrait of memories from infancy and outgrowing training wheels to the first day of school and beyond.  This is a great and wonderful mystery of the mothering heart, how she is able to hold everyone and every memory so close, and how no one knows what it all means but her.
When I look at my fourteen year old boy, I can see his sweet littleness and brave bigness all at once. In an effort to cling to the goodness of the past and the beauty of the present moment, I feel my heart struggling to push back the anxiety and fear that comes with knowing our first baby has arrived at the doorstep of high school.  
The chapter on Benedict's middle school years has come to an end, and celebrating this wonderful milestone with him has been a true joy for us.  During the graduation Mass and presentation of awards, I couldn't resist glancing over at Steve, communicating the depths of my feelings to him with a look that said, "Look at our baby! He's so big! Aren't you proud?? Is your heart bursting, because mine is bursting?!!!"

I think he thought I had a glob of mascara in my eyes, because he definitely wasn't feeling the emotional vibes I was shooting like a missile across the pew. Mind reading is not really man's gift.

To be honest, I feel like Ben's middle school years were pretty mellow.  I'm definitely not complaining about that, it's just that I think I had prepared myself for things to be much more difficult. I certainly don't want to graft my life experiences on to my children, but since my memories of middle school aren't exactly filled with merriment, I couldn't help but brace myself for the worst. I haaaaaated middle school.  Whenever I stroll down memory lane my brain takes a serious short cut through the back alley of those years.

Maybe it's just a boy thing.  Maybe the challenges that come with being a middle school teen just don't bother boys the way that they bother girls.  Or, maybe boys simply don't find flailing on the bed in a sea of tears very therapeutic. Or, maybe the ups and downs that Ben experienced over the past couple of years were, to him, easy to handle because he knew he had a great support system here at home (I hope he felt that, I really do).
I will say that I am terribly grateful for the boys in Ben's class.  I know for a fact that they made his transition from homeschool to private school a smooth one. Those boys have been together since pre-school, and yet they welcomed Ben into their tight-knit fraternity with open arms.  He must have told us dozens of times how grateful he was to be a part of such an awesome group of guys.
I had the opportunity to get to know Benedict's classmates a little better while coaching track this spring, and I really do have a special place in my heart for each one of them.  They come from terrific families, and they are going to accomplish great things in high school and beyond.
On the last day of school the eighth grade boys and girls scrimmaged the parents and coaches in a game of basketball.  Steve and I had a blast embarrassing Benedict with air balls and double dribbles.
After the scrimmage, all of the eighth graders were subjected to the torture of an ice-cold dunk tank. When it was my turn to aim for the target, I gave Ben the option of professing his unwavering love and devotion for me in front of the class in exchange for mercy.  He immediately declined, so I did the right thing and dunked him reeeel good.
On the drive home, Benedict turned to me and said, "Mom, when Joseph is in 8th grade, I will have already graduated from college.  I may even be married and have a family of my own. I am going to come back for his scrimmage, the dunk tank and graduation."

GULP. That was a "Jesus take the wheel" moment.  

Wow.  There's some perspective for ya.  Maybe by then I'll be used to closing this chapter on our boys' lives. Maybe I'll even have a handle on my tears.

Maybe not.

A few more photos and tales from graduation day...
 We surprised Ben on the last day of school with a candy card (another brilliant idea from Pinterest).
 Hello, dental bills.
I love watching the boys getting spiffy together. Henry missed the memo on dress socks.
 90% of our photos look like this.
 The other 10%. 
Joseph is M.I.A. He felt it was the perfect time to sleep of the carb load of Cheerios and peach puffs from afternoon snack time.
 My parents were happy to come and share their love and support for Benedict.
Benedict with Grandpa Bob. Steve's mom was in Rome, but was definitely with us in spirit!
Each of the 8th grade students put together a scrapbook of their elementary and middle school years.
The books were put out on the tables at the reception for family and friends to enjoy.  Benedict really dreaded this project, because he couldn't see the purpose in it.  I encouraged him to consider it to be a portrait of his life so far - a tangible display of the gifts and opportunities that God has given him, which can be a way of discerning God's will for his future.  When it was finally complete, I think he was surprised to see his story unfold, and what a beautiful and blessed story it truly is.  
 The parents of one of Ben's classmates put together a slide show featuring photos of each of the graduates.  I loved watching all of the kids' faces during the show.  I could see that they each felt really loved by their family and friends and also very proud of their school and all of their personal accomplishments.
Six cups of sugar and Red Dye #40 later, Henry decides he'll be ready for sleep sometime next week.
 Josie and Joseph, class of 2028!!
 Benedict's graduation gift was a surprise trip to Kansas City to watch the Royals play the St. Louis Cardinals.  We sat right long third base line about 10 rows up from the Cardinal's dugout.
 Even though the game was rained out in the 6th inning, we still had a really great time!
I find that these times of celebration pass all too quickly, and soon we are back in our work shoes, marching through the ordinary days of life.  I am, though, equally thankful for those ordinary days, because I know that no matter what we are called to do with the time we are given, to be able to work and live and laugh and cry together as a family really is the sweetest time, and it is not to be overlooked or dismissed because our sights are set on times and opportunities that we hope will be easier, more pleasing or more enjoyable...times and opportunities that require less of us in the way of virtue and devotion.  These ordinary days, in which we forge ahead, are shaping our sons into men, and I count every single one that I get to spend with them, before they leave our home, as precious, precious gift.


  1. Susan: I love how you write and portray your life. My oldest is also 14 (with 5 younger brothers) and he is just finishing his final week as a freshman in high school. High School has been a huge eye opener for us, but I thank God nearly every day that this boy is our first. He has made the transition smooth and has really grown into quite the reliable, consciencious young man. I pray that you will have an equally good transition with Benedict. Blessings to you!

  2. Tonight I will attend the third 8th grade graduation of one of my kids for the third year in a row. I can tell you that not only will you not get a handle on your tears, they will get worse with each child. I had my own aha moment when, like you, a child pointed it out. In 6 short years, we will only have 2 kids left at home year round. I'm pretty much going to be a mess for the next 6 years. :)
    Congratulations to Ben and to you and your husband. You are raising a great group of boys.

  3. Such a beautiful description of how it feels to see your oldest graduate 8th grade and be at "the doorstep of high school." Last week, I watched my oldest also graduate 8th grade at her Catholic school. It was so wonderful to see her bask in the light of her accomplishments. She's grown up so much in the last three years. (I do think middle school for boys seems to be so much different than middle school for girls...I hated it, too, and while my daughter seems to be choosing to remember all the good times, it was difficult to watch her struggle through the hard times. I might even say it was harder to experience middle school watching her than when I went through).

    It's incredible how much changes in a few short years. My oldest will also be out of college and on to life by the time my youngest graduates 8th grade. I am both humbled and in awe of that realization.

  4. I love this! They grow up so fast, I'm trying not to rush through the younger years but it's hard. You must be so proud, and the pic of all of them made me smile. Looks like the hubby is feeling good? Hope all is well!


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