Thursday, May 23, 2013

Finding Peace in the Pain - The Graduation that Wasn't

Tomorrow, May 24th, marks the final milestone to let go of in the adolescent journey of my step-daughter.  A child I loved since I first met her at age 7, whom I treated as my own as she spent summers with us, whom I fought for from 2005 forward, helping her father to save her from an unraveling world.  A child whom I was mommy to when her biological mother went so terribly wrong.  The daughter I never gave birth to but whom filled my heart with love.  A young woman who now gets to decide who she becomes each day, who will determine her own destiny versus being torn apart by biological parents who have yet so much to learn about unconditional love, grace and positive living.  Tomorrow she graduates from High School, from a school system I was deeply involved in up until such time as I had to show tough love last September.  Tough love that hurt us both but that had to be done.  

Jennifer when she was 9 years old during a day trip to DC, enjoying the museums.
I remember her first day of school in seventh grade, the new fresh start going forward for her life.  A small country school with 60-80 students in any given graduating class.  The type of school where everyone literally knows everyone, where the staff and teachers look after the kids as their own.  She was embraced there and for once in her life had a permanent place to grow.  Up until this time she'd bounced around sometimes multiple times a year from school to school as her biological mother changed residences.  It was hard on her, all of the unstable living.  Now it really was different though.  She has been with these 63 classmates she'll walk that stage with tomorrow for six years.  They are as much her family as my family was and always will be to her.

Jennifer, 2nd from the left, at her 8th grade Halloween Dance

Despite her father perpetuating a controlling wedge deeper between us after I left him in 2009, despite his pouring salt on our open wounds, she will overcome this part of her life, especially my absence from the balance of her senior year.  We had prom together last year and six months of togetherness on our own with little influence from him from last March to September, time wherein she got a small taste of how good life could be if she'd just be fearless enough to let go of the past.  To let go of the bad examples set by the addicts, sociopaths, abusers and those living in denial who couldn't love themselves let alone her.

Jennifer enjoying her rec soccer days.  Her coach ran out of awards so she scored a horse badge instead.
Does it hurt to not be there tomorrow?  Of course it does.  I have loved her for eleven years, I visualized this day, her getting to this point.  She finishes the year as an honor roll student.  She had 3 As and a B her final semester and the first half of the year all As.  She's always been intelligent but it wasn't until she had those six months with me that she really realized how important it was to follow through and do her best.  Any hopes of college funding depended on it.  Now she has a future to embrace if she chooses to do so, a small scholarship, and student aid that includes a full ride to Lynchburg College and an 18th birthday on the horizon that will give her freedom from those who can't love her unconditionally.  I'm so excited that she will finally get away, that she'll be free to build a life of her own.

Tristan and Jennifer in Delaware at a fall boy scout function.
I'd not heard from her since early October less an angry and bitter email after her dad cut ties again between us.  I understood her anger, just as I understood the people in her life putting boundaries on her, attempting to control her life.  Despite our distance, I always kept up on her grades, always sent her love via emails and texts and hoped one day that she'd seek the help she needs to heal her youth, to put it behind her and embrace all that she's been blessed with that is good and real and lasting.  That's what a real mother does, loves unconditionally, even if it's tough love. 

Facebook post from Jenny to me after Mother's Day 2013

The Monday after Mother's Day (last week) she started reaching out again via text messages.  Her intent was to have my 99 year old grandfather at her graduation.  He's unable to go given his recent health issue and my aunt already had plans (she's who would've taken him).  Although my aunt never heard from her about her intent, the fact that she was thinking about butting heads with her father one last time to allow that man the chance to see her graduation made me smile.  She would of risked everything having him there with my Aunt, her drivers license before 18, the roof over her head, her summer until her July 1st 18th birthday, all to give this man a memory of her.  Grandpa Mo is still with us and hopefully she'll see him soon.  Gratefully, he's out of the hospital at home resting and enjoying life again, where he should be.  There were also other intentions in her communications, intentions I wish to believe in and will wait on time to prove.  As I told her, when you're 18 you'll have the chance to earn my friendship, you will always have my love.

Jen showing off her 11th grade awards at the end of the school year.
Junior Prom with Grandpa Mo

So, tomorrow as I work and later drive to the eastern shore and back my heart will be with her, wishing her a wonderful day full of laughter, love and light.  A day to remember always with her friends.  A day to move forward on beyond the past, to find her own peace in the pain.  Her school counselor was sweet enough to tell me that Jenny wouldn't be walking that stage without me in her life.  As much as I wish to be there, I know doing so would bring nothing but hell upon her on what is supposed to be a glorious day to remember.  He'd already denied her his presence at the Spring Awards Banquet, Senior Night and the scholarships and grants awards ceremony.  His loss and her pain, a pain she may never really get over.  I hope for her own journey she will, for his flaws aren't a reflection of her, they're a reflection of him.  I'm so grateful her teammates were there for her to walk her on that field Senior night, being the only one there without parents.  I know in that moment she was thinking of me, angry at him for not allowing us to be a part of that joy when he chose not to.  

Senior night Spring 2013 soccer season

This summer will be my own 20 year high school graduation.  Thanks to social media I'm able to keep up with the classmates from my 350+ graduating class that I bonded with.  I have a feeling she'll be connected to Rappahannock for life and I'm grateful she had the opportunity to grow roots there these last six years.  Sixty-two lives that will be with her forever.  Sixty-two lives who helped her to become who she is today.

Samantha and Jennifer 8th grade graduation ceremony - on to high school they went!
One day there will be a college graduation ceremony, one that myself and my family will be welcomed at, one that's open for us to attend without her paying the price, one that her father has zero control over.  At that time she will hear my voice, my cheers of joy, my tears of love in her success.  For now I find peace in the pain and trust in the process, knowing that all is as it should be and that life will go on.....for both of us.  

Jennifer's 17th birthday party with friends from church and town last summer.
Congratulations Jennifer, mommy loves you.  You did it, you really did it girl!  I always knew you would and I still believe the best is yet to come.  Go out and claim it, make it your world.