On my desk at work is your first school photo. It's your kindergarten class at St Joseph’s Primary School, O’Connor. You've got your hair in pigtails, freckles across your nose, a hesitant smile, but a look in your eyes that says I am ready to learn.
Thirteen years have flown by and you’re about to embark on your final year. Part of me wants to start again, to be a better mother, to be more attentive from the start, more aware that these years will go by so quickly, to read to you more, to encourage you. But neither of us really wants that. You’re about done and so am I. You’re ready to move on to the next stage, whatever that may be, university, work, travel, hopefully all three in the near future. I wish you that.
Over the past year or so I’ve watched your independence grow. You’ve taken charge of your own life, organised yourself, learned to drive a car, succeeded at a part-time job, stayed well on top of your studies. You’ve needed me less and less, and while that rocks me to my core, it brings me joy that I haven’t done a bad job of turning you into a fine young woman.
There’ll come a day soon when you’re gone. I will miss you terribly. So before you go …
Remember this year won’t define you
Not your marks, or test scores, or grades. At the end of the year will you not be defined by your Atar. You will never be a number to anyone who loves you. While you’re enjoying certain subjects, they won’t define what you end up doing, either. You tell me now you want a career where you can help people face to face, perhaps something in the health field. That’s what will define you. How you treat people, your friends, your family, complete strangers. Spend a little time this year, while you are immersed in all the school work, to remember that the hardest work you will ever do is all about the people in your life.
And about them
You’ve done a good job of surrounding yourself with lovely people. Right from the very beginning. You are still in touch with some of the people from your kindergarten class even though some of you have moved school and even countries. I like that. I like, too, that I’ve stayed friends with some of their mothers, and we’re planning, after hearing about you lot trying to work out a get-together, to do the same. When I think of the friends I’ve made through your school years, I am happy too. But remember your friends now might not always be your best friends for life. My best friends now are these school mothers you’ve blessed me with. The best friends are the ones that come into your life at different stages when you need them. But remember too that even though school friends will come and go, the best ones, when you get together, slip right back into conversations you were having at eight and 18.
You’ll be that soon. You’re keen to enrol to vote to have a say. I’d like to think that you’ll enjoy your first drink but I’m guessing you already have. I’m good with that. An adult. Legally. Able to make decisions and choices and do all sorts of things. And here’s the thing. You’re sensible and trustworthy and organised and capable. You’ll be all right when you are adulting in the real world. Which scares me. Because what is my role then? To guide you, to listen, to make a home where you know you can return at any time if you need me. Something like that. I left home after year 12, coming to Canberra for university, and I never really went back. I’m not ready for you to do that. Know that you always can come back and I will never judge you for what decisions, what choices you have made.
So many choices
Because there are. I wondered, when you started kindergarten, if I gave any thought to what I wanted you to gain from the next 13 years. An inquisitive mind, a sense of wonder, an affirmation of where you fit in the world, friendships, strength, curiousity, self-confidence, a love of books and science and art and music and sport. I think you’ve achieved those things. But no matter how hard, how encompassing you think the last 13 years have been, school has nothing on adult life. Being grown up is hard work, and you’ve had to grow up fast in the past couple of years, but you’ve managed. The best, and worst, is yet to come. We have no idea what life will throw at us. Where we’ll be in five years, in 10, in 50. Just trust yourself, trust your gut, don’t be afraid to follow your heart occasionally, take risks, be daring, be brave. Do things that scare you. Travel the world, fall in love, say no to people, say yes to adventure. Do nothing with half your heart. Promise me that.
I remember you looked at me, that morning I tied your hair in pigtails and walked you down to school, when it was time for all the emotional parents to drop off their babies and begin a new journey. You smiled, and introduced yourself to another girl, and gave me one last look and turned away. You were on your way.
And you are again. I love you.