Friday, May 12, 2006

Rites of Passage

Since Eric was a first grader at St. Anthony's School, I've anticipated the tears I would shed on the day of his 8th grade Balloon Mass.

At our school, like many others, there are wonderful traditions. One of them is the annual Farewell Mass, referred to at our house at the "Balloon Mass".

The tradition goes like this: each fall, shortly after school begins, the 8th graders welcome the new first graders to our school with a special Welcome Mass. At the conclusion of Mass, the 8th graders meet up with their first graders buddies, present them with a balloon, and process hand-in-hand from the sanctuary. First grade mothers, having anticipated for years the day their child would attend this first school mass, tussle for the perfect photo opportunity. The students process to Mary's Garden, where the blue and gold balloons are released.

Each spring, we hold the Farewell Mass outside in Mary's Garden. The 8th graders are the guests of honor. By this point in their academic journey, the first graders have become proficient readers and are responsible for proclaiming the readings, intercessory prayers and special words of care and blessing for the 8th graders. At the end of Mass, each first grader presents a balloon to his or her beloved buddy and the students again process hand in hand out of Mass. The 8th graders then gather together and sing a farewell song. As the blue and gold balloons are released into the heavens, the students exchange hugs and sometimes even a tear or two. Eighth grade moms jockey for position, trying to get the perfect angle without being too embarrassing to their teenagers. Moms juggle the digital camera, the video camera, and the wadded up tissues we've consumed during this sentimental moment.

Today was Eric's special Balloon Mass, the one I've been waiting for since first grade. In the past few years, as I watched other graduating 8th graders participate in the ritual, I've shed a few tears of joy and thanksgiving for being part of such a wonderful community. I always thought that there would be many more tears when I watched my own 8th grader release his balloon. But today, I surprised myself. Yes, I'll admit to a few tears, but mostly I felt proud and extremely happy for Eric. He has had a wonderful time in elementary school. But like that balloon, he's destined for greater journeys.

One day recently, we were all standing in the kitchen and Eric jokingly said to Greg and I, "My confidence is at an all time high." Wow, what a thing to hear from a fourteen year old! I remember, at that age, feeling incredibly unsure of my position in the world. High school, for me, was something to be feared - new territory with many new people to meet and lots of uncertainty. But when I look at Eric, I realize he's ready. He's benefited so greatly from being part of a loving and spirit-filled elementary school community, but like his balloon, he's ready to soar, and now's the time.

The next few weeks will hold more special traditions as the 8th graders slowly march towards graduation. There will be parties, trips, awards ceremonies and more. I'm sure I'll need more tissues along the way as I watch my son move into the next phase of his life. Today, as I watched Eric's balloon grow smaller and smaller in the sky, I said a silent prayer for Eric, and one for Greg and I - that he will enjoy the journey before him and that we will have the strength and grace to help him prepare himself for all that lies ahead.


Mom Nancy said...

Wow, I got all teary reading that. What a wonderful tradition and it sounds like you have a great kid!

KMW said...

You got me all teary. I too am in the process of final 8th grade tradtions. She is my oldest and I have watched the traditions each year and looked forward to this year... but now our babies are growing up... and it isn't so easy. But you are right... let's pray for the strength to be the parents our children need in this next phase of their childhood. Congrats Catholic Mom!

Anonymous said...

WOW! I wish I could have been there, but I could see it all in your words. What a great time for Eric! Love you all! MOM

Pat Gohn said...

Bittersweet, ain't it? In some ways, we as moms graduate too--to the next phase of parenting.

Celebrate Life!