by Meg Ulrich

Last week I was skimming the land of Facebook, enjoying seeing all the kids dressed up for proms near and far. There were the group poses, girls lined up by free color, bowties matched up with gowns; young people that had traded their everyday clothes for a ‘lil sparkle and shine.
One photo caught me off-guard. A friend’s wife looked into the camera whilst standing beside their oldest son; a seemingly normal photo of mother and son, a photo like thousands taken that day. But her eyes told a story, like a page from my own book, and I knew that look in her eyes because I have seen it in the mirror. It was a mix of pride and love, of holding tight and letting go, a touch of longing for days gone by, and a realization that her baby is suddenly a young man.
It hit me like a ton of bricks that day, perhaps because a terrible accident had taken away two other mothers’ sons earlier that same morning. Because I know mothers whose sons have gone before them, young men that will forever be just that in my mind and heart; my heart broken in spots with that knowledge. Because all of them held their babies, chased their toddlers, counseled their preteens, watched their children grow and change. They loved and protected, taught and listened, held on and let go.
The whole business of parenting a high school senior and a soon-to-be senior has made my brain all swirly. I can only imagine what a mother bird feels like when she’s pushing those tiny baby birds out of her nest…did she teach them enough? Can she still protect them? Will they spread their wings and soar? Will they leave dirty socks and wrappers all over their new nest?
Seriously though, it’s a bizarre and scary time for a parent. I have sent that oldest kid to school from September through June, from Kinderwood through twelfth grade, and there was always a ‘next year, next grade’ awaiting at summer’s end. Now there are only a handful of days before he dons a cap and gown and completes this phase of his life and education.
It has been a journey; it has gone by so quickly.
I think now about how he has arrived here and the road he has traveled and I am truly in awe. Mostly, I think about the people that have lined the path along the way and how thankful I am for every one of them.
From those that introduced a classroom and stamped his tiny hand into plaster to preserve forever, to the ones that made spelling tests a dinner table discussion, the one that patiently taught concert songs year after year, the one that impressed the value of good grammar and form onto my talented writer, to the ones that recognized the dry humor and wit and appreciated it, and those that looked over his shoulder subtly, nudged gently, called him out when need be. The parents and spectators that cheered along the sides of the field, in the stands, from the bleachers; the coaches that guided and listened from summer tee ball to varsity sectionals, from the diamond to the paint to the grass beneath the lights, and everything in between.
I thank you all with a gratitude so deep that I can barely find words. To every one of you that have taught, guided, praised, corrected and respected this child, now young man, to the ones that challenged, understood, worried, accepted and supported, to the community, that takes care and pride in every one of the children that grows up here, I am forever grateful.
Congratulations Connor Ulrich and the TOW Class of 2017!