Is this some kind of metaphorical riddle that you don't really understand until you are older? Is it all of the magazine articles telling me how good dark chocolate is for you...or the turning 40 and getting older articles telling me to take better care of myself? Do your taste buds change over time? Do you realize that everything in life just isn't as innocent and sweet as milk chocolate? Or is it that reality is a heavier factor as you get older, and with every bite, you taste the bitter and the sweet?
I started contemplating all of this last night as I sat and watched my 8th grader 'graduate' from Middle School. Just as a side note - when did we start doing ceremonies for the end of Middle School? When I was done with 8th grade, I got what felt like a boot in the ass on the way out, and a note that said I needed to pay my overdue lunch account balance from buying too many Ho-Ho's at snack time. No pretty gowns, no DJ-sponsored dances, certainly no cool photo booths like my son had last night - no nothing. Maybe we are embracing all of the milestones now because we know life is too short - I don't know. Regardless, he graduated from 8th grade last night and I had 1 1/2 hours of the program to let my mind drift into some really heavy thoughts.
First of all, as absolutely happy, thrilled, proud and bursting I was last night, I knew that there was someone there that was incredibly sad, and probably fighting tears the whole night. The mother of the classmate who was killed in a car accident not even two months ago was there, watching the kids accept their awards and certificates, knowing her daughter should have been there, too. Her daughter should have had a hair appointment to have Swift-like flowy waves in her hair, experiencing one of her first pairs of heels, and learning how to apply eyeliner. But life is cruel....and like bittersweet chocolate, it reminded me that as happy as I was for my son, the sweet was altered with the bitter taste of tears that I swallowed as I saw the girl's mother bravely clapping for her daughter's friends. Is this how life is when you get older? Do you realize that every milestone is a miracle to cherish? Is every accomplishment met with a huge exhale of fear and anxiety that once again you dodged some type of bullet in life - whether it be illness, tragedy, or other awful circumstances?
My oldest wasn't the only one hitting milestone this week. Middler shot out of bed this morning knowing it was his last day of Kindergarten. There really is nothing like the first time you experience the last day of school, is there? Knowing you've accomplished what seems like the impossible feat of making it through 180 days of the same old same old, 8 hour-grueling days when you are used to the comforts of mommy and home and the 2 hour fun-filled segments of pre-school. As I walked him to school, holding his hand, I could feel his energy and his excitement coursing through his little body, and it made me happy for him knowing this was the same little guy who cried when I took him, whispering please mama let me come home with you, it's too long of a day to be away from home. As much as I wanted to take him home with me and tell him he could stay little with me forever - I knew I had to be brave for him and empower him and let him see for himself that he could do it..and he did. Though the pride I felt today made my spirit soar, my mind quickly went to the parents of the Newtown, CT children, who should be celebrating with me today instead of picking up the pieces of their shattered hearts. Bittersweet. I sent gifts to the teachers to show our appreciation, and my thoughts were filled with the incredibly heroic teachers all over the US who did more than just teach our children, they protected them, and some even died doing so. Is life really so cruel and harsh that every good thought is followed by a tragic one reminding us to cherish the blessings we're given? We're grateful aren't we? We don't for a minute take these milestones for granted anymore - at least I don't think we do. We are quietly celebrating, humble and gracious for the sunshine in our lives and the blue skies over head. We remember. The voices in our head remind us that things could be different..it just wasn't our time yet.
Maybe it's turning 40 that did it to me. Seeing the years whirring by faster than I can comprehend, knowing that every day is a gift, knowing that things really could be different, knowing that for every joy we experience, someone else is experiencing grief that is too overwhelming to process.
When you're a kid, you should only know rich, sweet, milk chocolate...you should be able to taste only the good without even a hint of the bad. That's what having a childhood is (or should be) about. There's plenty of time to know the real world when you get older, isn't there? There's plenty of time for the dark stuff - why not enjoy the light as long as possible? I know not every child is fortunate to know the beauty and joy of childhood, and how I wish they did..they should...how I wish they all could.
What I learned from my kids this week is to appreciate them, love them and live each day celebrating the little things, the big things, and everything in between. If I can give them one thing in life, it's a happy childhood - complete with the sweetness of milk chocolate, unspoiled by the craziness of the world we live in. After all, when you have a solid foundation, you are strong enough to take what life might throw at you when you're older. Forrest Gump was right, life is a box of chocolates...and sometimes you're going to get the dark stuff you don't really like, and sometimes it's going to be nuts...sometimes a little fruity, it's going to get sticky and gooey at times, but hopefully, the majority of it will be really, really sweet.
Until next time, I'm OK with the dark chocolate, it's a taste I've acquired and will find the joy in every bite...so pass the box, I'll have one more...and why not?
Cheers and Love,