Z Graduates

I looked around the table, my eyes shining with tears.

Z had gone off with his friends to dance.  He had a large group of about twenty friends who had all banded together and asked their parents if we could reserve a room at the local country club for their post graduation dinner.  There they all were, an upstanding group of young men and women, all posing for photos with each other and looking happy.  Some were coupled off, some were not, and they were all easy and comfortable with each other.  They looked so beautiful and hopeful, and I just couldn’t believe that this was the life I had been able to give to my son.

Around the table were all of the people who had helped me give it to him, minus one, of course.  My mother would have loved to see the only grandson she’d known, her first grandchild, on this special day.  I missed her terribly as I’d watched him walk onto the football field in his red cap and gown; like my own high school, the boys had worn red and the girls had donned white caps and gowns.  Z looked very much like his biological father Joe had on our own graduation day; we had been dating then, and inseparable.

I looked around, slowly, one at a time, at those who had traveled to be here for my son today.

My sister, who had flown in from Michigan.  After our mother had passed, she had stepped in to help me with childcare whenever I’d needed it.  With me being a teacher, it wasn’t as much as you’d imagine; but there were still days when snow fell or there were training sessions in the summer, and she’d been a constant source of support.  She’d babysat while I dated my now husband, when I wanted to go out with my girlfriends, when I wanted to feel closer to what a normal twentysomething woman would be, rather than the single mother that I was. Z looked at her children and her family as second only to our immediate one.

My father, who had flown in from Florida.  The man who had originally told me I‘d ruined my life by becoming pregnant out of wedlock at age 18, and who’d begged me to abort the pregnancy.  Later, though, he fully accepted the pregnancy and actually served as my Lamaze partner for the birth.  He too had babysat whenever he was asked, had helped me find my first teaching job and had served as the Important Man in Z’s life even after I’d met and married R.  He always spoke with pride about his grandson, and they shared a clearly special relationship.

R’s parents, who had driven all the way out from Michigan, having just arrived hours before the graduation ceremony.  From the very start, they had embraced Zach and I with open arms.  When I thought about what they must have thought about their thirty year old son bringing home a twenty five year old woman with a six year old child; I could imagine, with Z older now, me being far more judgmental than they ever were.  On the night of our wedding, R’s father had stood up in front of the entire reception and called Zach his grandson, and an excellent “bonus” to gaining a daughter in law.  Even as their biological grandchildren had started arriving, I never saw any difference in the way they treated my younger two versus Zach.  R’s father had served as Z’s sponsor for his Confirmation in the Catholic Church.  They were his grandparents, plain and simple, no matter the biology.

And finally, R.  R, who also had accepted Zach and I as a package deal from the start of our relationship.  Who had worked hard to ensure we would be able to provide for this day, for Z’s college education, even though biologically Z was not his own child.  Even when we’d had our rocky times and separated, R made sure to call Z and show up to parties and occasions.  We didn’t always agree on how to parent, but we always agreed that we were both Z’s parents; he’d never once said anything like “Well, he’s your son, not mine” to me.  It was R who had instilled a love of ice hockey and soccer in Z, who had spoken his fluent Spanish while Z was trying to learn it in high school, who had ultimately helped Z choose the university he would attend (“Do you want $200,000 of debt when you graduate or zero”?).  There was so much about who Z was now that was so closely tied to his experiences with the only father he’d ever known; I couldn’t imagine him any other way.

Life could have been very different for Z and I, I thought as I looked around the beautiful room of the country club where we now sat.  If I hadn’t had the support of my family, if I hadn’t been so accepted by R’s family, if everyone surrounding my son didn’t embrace education as a priority, he wouldn’t have graduated with top honors from an excellent high school with a full scholarship waiting for him at a terrific university.  I thought back to all of the different forks in the road, when I’d made a life altering decision.  Any one of them could have changed the way today was, how it turned out, how he’d turned out.

I might not be totally satisfied with my current place in life, or all that I’d accomplished.  But one thing I knew for certain.  I couldn’t be more proud of the work I’d done as Zachary’s mother than I was at that moment, surrounded by everyone who loved him, celebrating the amazing young man he’d become.


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