A Graduation Story

Life with teens:

A lovely day turned into a lovely dinner OH KABOOM WE’RE HAVING AN ARGUMENT *$!@*@&$(%.

What the what?


Twas the night before graduation and all through the house, every creature’s disgruntled, my kid is a louse. The cap and the gown hung in the shower with care, in hopes a diploma is somewhere out there. The children were fed pizzas from Mod, dessert included, a celebratory nod. We said ‘so long!’ to our guests, off on our quests, before settling in to another night’s rest.

But before we could get there, our heads to the pillow, two teens went whonky with tales of betrayal. This mama is tired, this mama is spent, the mama has no interest in listening to them vent. We argued, we fought, the evening was fraught. We calmed and discussed and eyed alone time with lust. We dodged and we volleyed, explanations each way, anything really so we could call it a day. Eventually we ended and all slipped out of sight. Happy Graduation to all and to all a good night!

Yeah, so that’s how it’s going here. I’m reworking Christmas stories because I’d rather do that than deal with the young one who still wants to grump around (grump around, grump up, grump up and grump down (no? anybody?)). To say emotions are running slightly high in the house these days would be a grave understatement. Is it like this everywhere? Does the stress of preparing for graduation that leads into the stress organizing for graduation that leads into the stress of invites going out and the stress of guests coming in that leads to the stress of it finally being here eventually drive everyone to the edge? I feel like I can see the finish line – but good grief.

We welcomed my parents this evening with a pizza party and catch up session. They’d traveled far outside their comfort zone of to-the-beach-and-back and NORTH, which is well off their list of places they like to go. I’d asked them to make plans for Zoe’s graduation a year ago. It started out as a selfish request – in that I knew that Rich’s family members would likely scoop up all the available tickets as soon as they were released. While my parents have never been frequent flyers to our area and, therefore, only typically see the kids a few times a year – I still wanted representation at this event. A year ago, that was my main motive.

But during the course of the last twelve months, Zoe and I hit some MASSIVE speed bumps – bumps that were more like mountains – and there were many times when I reverted back to Jyl Circa 2014 and felt that packing my bags was really the easiest resolution. And, during the course of the last twelve months, I was reminded how much my mom has supported me over the years of my growth into a stepmom. I was reminded of all the times I wanted to throw in the towel and all the times she told me not to – that we’d figure it out, that the kids needed me and I them, that it was just ‘normal’ kid stuff, that I was doing great and to just be patient. I was reminded of all the times when I didn’t get that kind of support from the two people I really needed it from (the kids’ bio-mom and their grandmother) and I eventually realized I didn’t just want family ‘representation’ at this graduation – I realized that I wanted MY MOM to stand beside me and enjoy this victory with me.

I felt such a huge sense of relief and happiness when they arrived. It was the first click in the ‘things finally falling into place’ meter. Yes, they are here. Yes, there will be a graduation.

Now eat your pizza.

Except that before they (my parents) even got to the end of the driveway, tempers were high up on the hill. Somehow they’d offended the graduate. Not just offended, but offended in the way teenagers are offended at the most random things and when you peel away the onion, you have to explain to them that this is not offense they’re feeling…it is something else. Evidently, not hearing ‘congratulations’ during the course of the night, or immediately upon exiting their car, well, now we were going to have to cancel the world. Dang it.

Remember that saying from blogs ago? The one my husband really likes to say? “But what’s the problem behind the problem?” Once I got done with my adverse reaction to the buzzkill of a delicious pizza night and once we got done chatting about real feelings, we (the adults) realized that Zoe was actually just having a slight pre-graduation, pre-holy-hell-the-whole-family-will-be-here, pre-this-means-I’m-going-to-HAVE-to-move-foward meltdown. And being that she (the child) is still learning to dig through the muck of her feelings, the nearest thing she could attribute the extreme level of anxiety to was ‘oh, nobody said congratulations to me tonight.’

So, that’s how Thursday night went. Insert pizza, talk child off of ledge, forgive child for confusing offense with hurt feelings with stress with anxiety, live another day.


Rich and I are laying in bed high fiving each other for pulling off the first Family All-Star event. The one where we mix all the pieces of all the lives that never dreamed they would cross paths ten years ago. Ex-wives, two. Ex-husbands, two. Mother-in-Laws, two. Father-in-Laws, two. Stepmoms, one. Kids, four (we wrangled some others into the circle), mediator/friend/sister-from-another-mister/witness, one. Mind you, while we are high-fiving, we’re listening to the younger of the kids yarp in the bathroom as his stomach has finally decided the nerves of the last day, days, week, month, months are ready to evacuate. In between fist bumps, I’ve tried to explain to the crouched over Zack that we’ve basically all been running on adrenaline since March 11th – and, his body has just realized that this day, graduation, was a milepost of survival. As a 14 year old, he clearly believes none of this.

But it was a milepost. In all the sleepless nights and news report stalking and email-update-checking – this graduation was the event that really sat at the top of the ‘Important Things We Still Need To Make Happen’ list. Most of the other things vanished – cancelled or relinquished or pushed to an unnamed date. This day stayed. Of course, as the mixed family matriarch – I held out a secret hope that quarantine/isolation/social grounding would be a legitimate reason to say “Oh, no, that’s not going to work – see, the Governor said so…we can’t have you all in one room. Germs, am I right? Bummer.” Betrayed.

The day started easy enough with a relay of cars headed to the high school for a 10:30am sharp graduation appointment. I’d gotten email after email over the last month with very strict instructions, the list growing as we passed through May. Must wear mask. Must wear mask – gloves recommended. Must wear mask, social distance, wear gloves, brown waders, snorkel mask and breathing apparatus, no later than 15 minutes early, sign in at Station One, drive in reverse on two tires to Station Two and present blood type (ARC Cards only) and a gift to Chris Whitley, drive to parking spot and recite the Declaration of Independence. Which made the laissez faire-ness of the actual day super surprising – pretty much show up and head in when your child’s name is called. Mask recommended.

The casual-ness of the arrival process was followed by the realization that the advertised ‘five-minute-diploma-drive-by’ was going to be a much more meaningful twenty-five minute trek through the school. Hanover had a myriad of displays for photo ops and rotated families through – with zero rushing. There were staff members clapping and cheering. There was music, balloons, streamers, and pause and pose banners. The lead up to the actual event – watching Zoe collect her diploma with a backdrop of Pomp & Circumstance, hearing her name called – something’s in my eye. Had I thought this was a dumb idea? It was lovely. It was perfect. It did not involve sitting in a stifling auditorium for three hours. It was just a special moment, shared by the inner circle – and yes, my mom.

We carried the glee right into the luncheon – the one where we were all praying for everyone to behave and for no one to be offended. Here’s how we pulled it off: A huge buffet of Peruvian delights. A table of cookies and cake. Alcohol offered (secretly, on the sly) only to those we’d seen drink successfully before. A strategically placed a fan, thus allowing for the old ‘oh, you might not have heard me right over the noise’ excuse if something murmured was, well, not. A resounding success! Oh, and many, many verbalized and hand written congratulations.

Skipping ahead…Sunday:

Rest. Breathe. It’s done. Relax. Deflate. Sigh. Stare off into space. Enjoy.

86 days of wondering were over. The months of pulsing adrenaline disappeared. We were without company and my brain was reaching blindly for another to-do, unable to comprehend that it was all to-done. Turn it off, Jyl.

Twas the night after everything and all through the house, bodies were lazing about on the couch.

One thought on “A Graduation Story

  1. You are truly a saint to stick through these high stress situations with grace! It is hard enough to do it biological kids (with no local family to help). We are struggling here:(

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