The photo took my breath away: A little boy with a big grin, waving at the camera — hello or goodbye? — all dressed up in his first cap and gown.
Randy, my oldest grandchild, graduated from preschool last week. I couldn’t be in California for the ceremony, so his mom sent me a photo.
I wish you could’ve seen him.
I wish I could’ve seen him, too.
When you get a chance to share a child’s rite of passage — even if it’s only one of many in his life — you shouldn’t pass it up. There will be other graduations in his future, but I was sorry to have to miss this one.
Not that Randy minded. He knows I live far, far away in a strange galaxy called Las Vegas. He understands, as best he can, that I can’t always be with him as often as we would like.
Sometimes, when it’s time for me to go, he gets a little sad. Saying goodbye is hard at any age. And it never gets any easier. But when you’re 4 years old, and your nana leaves you and doesn’t come back for a month, that’s a big chunk of time.
A month is one-twelfth of a year, and a year is one-fourth of Randy’s whole life. So a month for him is, like … well, a lot.
When you’re my age, a month goes by so fast it makes you dizzy. But a month away from someone you never want to leave can feel like forever.
I pop in and out of my grandchildren’s lives like a nana-jack-in-the-box. They see a jet streaking across the sky and ask, “Is that Nana’s plane?”
Also, for some reason, when they see a FedEx delivery van, they yell, “It’s Nana’s truck!”
The first question they ask when I show up is, “Are you going to stay for a long time, Nana, or just a little bit?”
It’s never an easy question to answer. Little or long, it always ends with my leaving.
To make the parting less teary — for them, not me — I’ve taught them a ritual. It goes like this:
“Where is your nana,” I ask, “when you can’t see her?”
Wylie, at 2, is still working on the answer. Baby Eleanor will pick it up in time. But Randy, who’s almost 5, and Henry, who’s almost 4, point to their chests and say, “In my heart!”
“That’s right,” I say, “and you are in mine. So don’t forget it.”
I want them to know I carry them with me wherever I go, and that a part of me remains with them when I leave. We don’t have to be in the same room to know we are loved.
It’s such a mystery — isn’t it? — the everlasting, ever-present transportability of love? Yet they understand it in the only way it can ever be understood — with a childlike innocence and trust.
In years to come, they will celebrate countless rites of passage: graduations, birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, the births of their children and grandchildren. I intend to be at every one of them. If not “in the flesh,” surely in their hearts.
This fall, Randy will start kindergarten at the school where his dad went to kindergarten some 30 years ago and where he now teaches third grade.
Thirty years is the blink of an eye in a mother’s memory, but I well recall Nate’s first day of school. He hurried up the walk, curls bouncing like springs, so excited to get to his new classroom and set sail on the grand adventure called school.
“Have a great day!” I called after him, fighting my tears.
He stopped and looked back at me. I grinned and waved. No big deal, just letting my baby go.
Suddenly he unzipped his backpack and pulled out a ratty blankie he’d promised to leave at home. Apparently, he was trying to smuggle it into school.
Taking one last whiff of the blankie, he shoved it into my hands. “You keep it, Mom,” he said. “You might need it.”
And with that he was gone.
He was right. I did need it. Some days I still do. Everybody needs a blankie once in a while.
I carry a ragged little piece of it in my heart.
Sharon Randall can be reached at P.O. Box 777394, Henderson NV 89077, or by visiting her website, sharonrandall.com.