• Nina Vallone

College Graduation – The Blink of a Lifetime

They say the days are long, but the years are short; they weren't kidding.

A mom's heartfelt insight on college graduation

Time is a fickle fucker. Four years can simultaneously feel like a lifetime and a heartbeat ago. Four years ago, two children lived and ate and slept and fought and laughed under our roof as permanent teenage residents. Four years ago I attended multiple sporting events nightly, worried on Friday and Saturday nights about when my kids would be coming home and did so much laundry that kept baskets filled in several rooms of the house. Four years ago, my mom was alive. It seems like both a lifetime and heartbeat ago.

While feeling pride and joy and sadness, I felt a loss. Loss of an era and loss of life as we knew it.

One thing for certain is time marches on – just like Girl will march on across a university stage on Saturday and receive her degree. After four short years, she’s leaving her college home and starting fresh again, from a new perspective, with new life experience. Four short years ago, I reflected on her graduating high school – what a difference four years makes.

As I reflected then, I recall, while feeling pride and joy and sadness, I felt a loss. Loss of an era and loss of life as we knew it. I felt loss of my girl to the world at large. I looked back at 18 years of parenting and questioned if I taught her enough, loved her enough, did enough. I looked back at failures and successes and looked forward to what she had in front of her – what I had in front of me.

Today, I can confidently say I taught her enough, I loved her enough and did enough. And with beaming pride I can say she has taught herself, loved herself and has done so much more all by herself. Her growth (and of course some setbacks) has been a joy to witness.

Not long after Girl left the nest I slowly realized my new role as witness to her life. I am not her LIFE. Not like when she was five and wanted me to sit and color with her for hours or when she was eight and wanted to ride bikes together. I am a witness to her life now – she shares some of her life with me and I get to watch and listen and enjoy and guide, when I’m asked. That part is kind of tough…the waiting to be asked part? I like to talk and assume and tell. I’m getting better at the waiting part, the listening part. A+ for effort and B for execution? It’s taking me some time.

And back to time. We blinked and here we are. Ready to pack up for a six hour car ride on our way to another midwestern state with iffy weather to watch Girl march on. And we blinked and a lifetime was lived. In no particular order, Girl grew into herself, Boy was accepted and started college, Girl went abroad, the pandemic rocked our world – collectively and individually. We became empty nesters, I went back to work full time. We all got Covid and gratefully survived it. My mom was diagnosed with cancer, we took care of her and she died within seven months. And that’s the short version. We lived a lifetime lived in four years. Time. You either fight against it as a foe or flow with it as a friend.

I slowly realized my new role as witness to her life. I am not her LIFE.

Reflecting today I feel only excitement, pride, joy and awe. Awe in the miracle of time and its constant movement. Awe in the wisdom, growth and confidence of my soon to be college graduate. Awe in the power of looking back at the last four years and sighing and saying ‘We did it.’ Not just one ‘it,’ but all of it. All the living and loving and grieving and moving through time. And whereas four years ago I looked back and looked forward, today, while reflecting, I am firmly looking to this moment with a big-ass thank you and another sigh of relief and awe.

Awe that we get to live this life. Awe that we made it here. And lots of prayers that we get to keep marching on.

Nina Vallone is a freelance writer and author/owner of the blog You Know Neen. Her writing has been featured in ChicagoNow, Forest & Bluff Magazine, The Lake Forest Leader and Make It Better. Nina is on a quest to write about what she talks about: life, love and the pursuit of getting up after falling repeatedly. Her passion for mindful living led her to teach mindfulness meditation classes and host speaking events on cultivating gratitude. She was a terrified yet excited story teller in the 2016 Chicago production of Listen to Your Mother, a national series of live readings by local writers in celebration of Mother's Day. Nina is a mostly adoring wife and mom of two pretty cool young adults and a sweet old pup named Coco. She and Hubs tirelessly peruse warm weather real estate in hope of finding their next big adventure.