My daughter is graduating high school today. This is a huge moment in life — probably more for her than for me, although I’m not sure — and the mass of thoughts and emotions are a bit overwhelming.
The moment Avigayil was born, I was born as well. Her entry in the universe was transformative for me, as she turned me from person into parent — a permanent alteration, a complete reconfiguration of all one knows to be true in the world. This tiny, spectacular creature who has, at different times, kept me up at night (more recently than one might think), sent me running and chasing, challenged some of my most basic beliefs and completely unhinged me, has also taught me how to love unconditionally, how to stretch beyond the limitations of my experience and how to imagine a different world. Somehow, despite the fact that she came out of my body a mere 18 years ago, her vision of life is completely her own, her identity proudly independent and strong. I am in awe of her entire person, and her continued presence, the blessed intertwining of our journeys, has been nothing short of a divine gift.
There is something profoundly sad for me, too.
When she was little, I had so many ideas about how I was going to raise her, about what I was going to teach her and show her and explore with her. The energy I had when she was a toddler to take her to the zoo and say, “Monkey! Can you be a monkey, too?” has gradually dissipated. I thought I would have the same enthusiasm when I would teach her about religion, politics and friendship. As in, “Look, that’s a political argument!” or “Look, that’s a best friend!” or “Look, that’s a first love!” It never happened quite that way, dreams of parenthood became realities of family life, and now it feels like it’s all over. I cannot redo her childhood, go back to when she was 11 or 7 and speak to that part of her mind. I cannot help but feel like I have been profoundly inadequate.
At the same time, she’s off on this monumental transition and the possibilities are spectacular. What a fantastic moment in life! I want her to see the world and meet interesting people and journey experience all the abundance of connections and awareness and humanity that the world has to offer. I want her to live boundlessly, to feel the sky and the earth and the wind, to run and jump and fly through life, to let her spirit stretch beyond what is perceived as possible.
Mostly, at this moment, I want to give her something to take with her on her journey, some kind of great wisdom. I feel like my job right now as a parent is to adequately arm her as she takes these first steps into the wide world. I want to be both her protector and her enabler, her grounding and her springboard, her home and her entire galaxy. I want to be there with her, but I want her to be free of me. I want to be in her heart, but I want her heart to go further than what I can offer her. I want to give her a piece of my own spirit to always have with her — so I will always have a piece of hers in me — but I don’t want her to be bound by my own limitations.
But I don’t really know how to do all this. I know motherhood never really ends, and yet it feels like the scenes in which I have lines in this production are over.
All that remains, I think, is love. All I can equip her with in this life is the knowledge — complete, uncompromising and uninhibited — that she is loved. It seems to me that there are two types of people in this world, those who know that they are loved and those who don’t. The former are the ones who live fully, without fear and inhibition. And that’s what I want for my daughter. I want her to go through life with the unquestioning knowledge that she is fully loved, that she can go and do anything and there will be people behind her — her mother, her father, her siblings — who always have her back, who support her, trust her and believe in her no matter what. I think that such knowledge combats fear, the kind of fear that keeps people from living fully. And that is what I have to give her.
So this is my gift to you, Avigayil, as you embark on this remarkable journey called life. I am no longer the mother who will bake cookies with you, show you the animals, take you to your gymnastics class or drive you to school. But I am and will continue to be the mother who loves you with my whole heart and soul. I am your greatest cheerleader in life, the one in the stands watching as you go and fly. Take my love, and live.
Reflections on My Daughter's High School Graduation
Dr. Elana Maryles Sztokman is an award-winning author and feminist researcher, educator and activist. She is currently studying to become a rabbi at Hebrew Union College in Jerusalem, and is blogging about her journey at www.jewfem.com